Extreme weather in Europe could lead to lower crops and higher food prices

British farmers have warned that hot and dry conditions in the country will inevitably lead to lower crops this year.

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In a typical year, Roger Hobson can expect to produce around 35,000 tons of carrots from his 880-acre farm in Yorkshire in the north of England. But 2022 was anything but typical.

As extreme heat and subsequent drought disrupted agricultural cycles in Europe, large swathes of Hobson’s crop turned black and died. He now expects a 30 percent drop in yields this year.

“I’ve been growing crops for 30 years and this is the worst drought I’ve ever seen,” Hobson told CNBC.

The previous drought four years ago, then called the worst in a generation, was comparatively bad, he said. Only this time record temperatures of 5 degrees Celsius above 2018 highs aggravate the situation.

“We called 2018 a once-in-a-lifetime drought, but here we are again,” he said.

Hot and dry weather conditions are the latest in a string of challenges facing farmers and their crops this year, and market analysts are warning that smaller harvests could lead to higher food prices and potential food shortages.

Long, hot summers in Britain are detrimental to food crops

Carrots just love the British climate… At temperatures above 30 degrees, they shrivel and die.

Roger Hobson

Chairman of the British Carrot Growers Association

The UK is not accustomed to such extreme weather conditions as much of its production is mostly large outdoor vegetables – depends on the temperate, maritime climate of the country.

This is worrisome for farmers like Hobson, chairman of the British Carrot Growers Association, whose farm produces about 4% of the UK’s carrot crop and supplies many local food retailers.

“Carrots just love the British climate. She is happy at a temperature of 18 to 22 degrees. [Celsius]; a lot of precipitation. Archetypal English summer, basically,” Hobson said. “Anything above 30 degrees, they shrink and die. And that’s what we saw.”

July was the driest summer in England since 1935, with serious consequences for farmers and food prices.

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Such conditions have a domino effect that goes far beyond the humble orange vegetable. Other crops, including onions, sugar beets, apples and hops, are forecast to decline by 10-50%. UK Environment Agency reports. Half of this summer’s potato crop could be lost.

Smaller crops, in turn, are likely to drive up prices for consumers in supermarkets, says Alice Witchalls, an analyst at market research firm Mintec.

“The critical period for the development of potatoes is August, and this crop is very dependent on water. We can expect production to drop, with some growers reporting up to 40% drops in potatoes. This could then be reflected in prices,” Witchalls told CNBC. .

A spokesman for Tesco, one of the UK’s leading supermarkets, said it has yet to have a problem with fruit and vegetable availability but is working with growers to “understand the impact of warm weather”.

Worst drought in Europe in 500 years

If animals and pastures suffer because of the weather… it will affect the animals and reduce productivity.

Paul Hughes

Chief Agricultural Economist, S&P Global Commodity Insights

Harvest forecasts in the European Union are now down 16% for grain corn, 15% for soybeans and 12% for sunflower compared to the previous five-year average.

Agricultural economists say this has implications not only for food production, but also for dairy and livestock farms that rely on such products to raise their animals.

“If animals and pastures are affected by the weather, it will affect animals and reduce dairy, butter and milk production,” said Paul Hughes, chief agricultural economist and director of agribusiness research at S&P Global Commodity Insights.

Critical mission for livestock and dairy farmers

Carl Franklin, a sheep farmer from Oxfordshire in the southeast of England, said the situation is now becoming critical.

It will soon be time to wash the roughly 90 ewes – a process of increasing the flock’s nutrient intake before mating – but grass shortages could deplete the lambing season.

“If the ewes aren’t washing well enough, I can drop the figure down to 120%, which could mean fewer lambs,” Franklin told CNBC, saying he may have to resort to expensive hard food. The typical reproductive rate of sheep is between 180% and 200%, which means about two lambs for every sheep.

Dairy and livestock farms are warning about the adverse effects of extreme weather conditions on their animals.

Jacob King – Pa Images | Pa Images | Getty Images

Agriculture authorities are now calling for more support for farmers, especially with regards to how governments deal with extreme weather and national food security.

“The situation on the ground continues to be extremely challenging across all sectors of agriculture. Many farmers face serious consequences, ranging from lack of irrigation water to lack of enough grass and the need to use winter fodder,” Tom Bradshaw, Vice President, said the National Farmers Union of Great Britain.

“This highlights the urgent need to ensure our food security and the government and its agencies to better plan and manage the country’s water resources, prioritizing water for food production along with protecting the environment,” he said.

“The next few weeks will be decisive”

If there is a lot of rainfall, this can increase production.

Alice Witchalls

market analyst

“Growing vegetables has become much less attractive,” Hobson said. “It forces us all to rethink what we do.”

As for the upcoming harvest, analysts say the next few weeks will be vital to food supply chains and ultimately prices. The onset of rainy weather may help restore some crops to some extent and allow more planted area next year.

“For the fruit and vegetable industry, the next few weeks will be decisive. If there is a lot of rainfall, it could increase production,” Mintec’s Witchalls said.

For many, this will be an agonizing wait.

“We’ll be keeping a close eye on what we have in store for the next few months,” Franklin said.

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