Drought Will Cause Crop Failures in Spain, Farmers Warn

Wheat and barley are likely to fail entirely in several areas.

The dry Sau reservoir north of Barcelona, March 20, 2023.
The dry Sau reservoir north of Barcelona, March 20, 2023.
AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti, File

MADRID (AP) — Drought now affects 60% of the Spanish countryside, with crops like wheat and barley likely to fail entirely in four regions, the main Spanish farmers' association said on Thursday.

Spain's long-term drought is causing "irreversible losses" to more than 3.5 million hectares of crops, the Coordinator of Farmers' and Ranchers' Organizations (COAG in its Spanish acronym) said in a new report.

Some cereals need to be "written off" in the prime growing regions of Andalusia, Castilla La Mancha, Extremadura and Murcia, and are likely to be lost in the driest areas of three other regions, according to the report. In the wine-growing region of La Rioja, farmers were in the exceptional situation of "having to irrigate cereals ... when normally they are never watered," the association said.

Nuts and vineyards are also struggling, and olives will be badly affected if rain does not arrive in the next few weeks, the report stated. The lack of available water was further impacting the ability of farmers to irrigate corn, sunflowers, rice and cotton, likely leading to reduced sowing of these crops over the summer, it added.

Three years of very low rainfall and high temperatures have put Spain officially into long-term drought, the country's weather agency said last month. Last year was Spain's sixth driest — and the hottest since records began in 1961.

Spain's agriculture ministry has called a meeting with farming representatives on Wednesday to discuss the crisis. COAG will plead for immediate financial relief, it said.

"This has been the most expensive planting season on record, and with harvests ruined or reduced by 60-80%, there will be many farms that will have a very tough time surviving if they don't receive an injection of capital," said Javier Fatas, head of water and the environment for the association.

In addition to crop failures, ranchers will struggle to feed cattle due to dried-up pasture, the farmers' association further warned. This will also be the third consecutive season without honey for beekeepers, as bees lack vegetation and flowers to feed from in the mountains due to a shortage of water.

Reservoirs in Andalusia, Spain's most important food-exporting region, have water levels of 30%. The regional capital, Seville, may face drinking water restrictions by the summer if not enough rain falls.

In the northeastern Catalonia region, average reservoir levels are hovering around 27% of their capacity. There are restrictions on agricultural and industrial water use, and it is forbidden to use drinking water for washing cars or filling swimming pools.

The spokesperson for Spain's state weather agency, Rubén del Campo, said the prognosis for the next few weeks was unlikely to improve. "This drought is probably the most intense since the 1960s," he told Spanish radio network Cadena Ser.

"In some areas, such as Catalonia or the east of Andalusia, it is at the level of the worst droughts due to the scarcity of rainfall in the last three years," he said.

The picture is not any rosier in the long-term either, especially for those crops which rely on rainwater.

"There is no plan B," COAG's Fatas said. "While there have been improvements in irrigation systems to make them more efficient, this is becoming a very, very difficult situation for crops that rely on rainwater, like cereals, almonds and our vineyards."

Spain as a whole has warmed 1.3 degrees Celsius (2 degrees Fahrenheit) since the 1960s, according to weather agency data, a phenomenon that is noticeable year-round but especially in summer, when the average temperatures are 1.6 C higher than they were decades ago.

Amid bone-dry conditions, Spain's fire season started early this year, with a blaze last month in the country's east.

Some 267,000 hectares (666,000 acres) of land burned last year in Spain, making 2022 its worst year of fire destruction since 1994, government statistics say.

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