Europe's Crops Are Parched

Europe's Crops Are Parched

A summer of heatwaves and drought has burdened Europe’s crops, as the continent experiences one of its hottest summers, with many countries experiencing temperatures around 116 degrees Fahrenheit. In France, the fourth-largest wheat exporter, July was the country’s driest month since 1961. Meanwhile in Spain, the source of half of the world’s olive oil, water shortages and unirrigated crops will result in olive harvests being less than 20% of the average of the last five years. Across the EU, yields of soybean, sunflowers, and maize are already 9% below average.

Additionally, heatwaves don’t just affect crop yields. They also dry out grasslands, making it harder to feed livestock. Hot weather and already parched crops makes conditions more dangerous for farmers to work outside.

BBC: Deadly heatwaves '100 times more likely' due to climate change, May 18, 2022.

Why This Matters

Geopolitical conflicts are already causing food insecurity around the world. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, a major supplier much of wheat and corn, has already made these grains less ready and more expensive. Climate change is yet another factor.

In India, spring’s massive heatwave, directly tied to climate change, lessened wheat harvests by at least 20%. As warming continues, crop yields will continue to drop. According to the most recent IPCC report, global yields of staple crops such as rice, corn, and wheat are likely to drop by 10-25% for each degree of warming above 1.1 degrees Celsius.

In the US, California’s 2021 tomato crop took a hit from summer’s high temperatures and impacted food supply. The state’s harvest supplies 90% of the country’s canning tomatoes.

NBC: Climate Change And Drought Forcing Hard Choices Across California, April 28, 2022.

Sacramento Bee: 'The Greatest Reduction Ever.’ How Drought Has Affected Rice Farmers In Sacramento Valley, May 16, 2022.

The Economist: See what three degrees of global warming looks like, October 31, 2021.

Water Wars

Farming has to be done more sustainably to weather the consequences of climate change and prevent it from getting worse. After all, it’s contributed to the desertification of much of the world’s land. A recent report found that humans have altered 70% of land on Earth, primarily through agriculture. Researchers say that nearly 40% of the world’s land has been degraded, affecting around 3.2 billion people.

TRT World Now: UN report | 40% of all land on Earth damaged by human activities, April 28, 2022.

One way to farm more sustainably is to use less water, an increasing necessity as the world gets hotter and dryer. In the Netherlands, the Dutch government has already begun to regulate water use. Parts of the country have already banned farmers from spraying their crops with surface water, while the European Commission encouraged nations to treat urban wastewater to use as irrigation for farms. The Rhine, a vital waterbody for the trade of agricultural products and other commodities, is becoming less economically feasible due to low water levels at certain points which require vessels to limit the weight of their loads. Passage, itself, could become impossible.

Meanwhile, the US is also trying to regulate its water use. Lake Mead and Lake Powell are crucial sources of water for the nation, but drying up. The situation is so dire that this could be the first climate disaster that the US is legally obligated to address by regulating water use.

DW: Our drinking water | Is the world drying up?, March 20, 2022.

The Hill: Kamala Harris WARNS wars will be fought over water, not oil, April 7, 2021.

DW: Water crisis in Southern Europe | Severe droughts and scarce rain force water restrictions, July 5, 2022. Study | Climate change costs Germany billions annually, July 18, 2022.

CBS: Megadrought in the West threatens energy and water security, May 5, 2022.