Warm Winter and Water Shortages Complicate Harvests for Some Italian Farmers

Olive growers hope that the warm winter does not lead to an early spring bloom followed by a late freeze, as happened in 2021.

Artichokes at an Italian market
By Francesca Gorini
Mar. 25, 2022 14:23 UTC
Artichokes at an Italian market

After a win­ter ranked as the fifth-hottest on Earth, Italy wel­comes the spring sea­son with two main con­cerns: the severe drought affect­ing its north­ern regions and the dis­tor­tion caused by the off-sea­son heat to reg­u­lar crop cycles.

According to the Italian agri­cul­tural asso­ci­a­tion, Coldiretti, the aver­age win­ter tem­per­a­tures in the sec­ond-largest olive oil-pro­duc­ing coun­try in Europe have increased by 0.15 ºC since 1981.

The drought in the Po River Valley threat­ens over 30 per­cent of national agri­cul­tural pro­duc­tion, includ­ing tomato sauce, fruit, veg­eta­bles and wheat, and half of the live­stock of the coun­try.

Moreover, this win­ter was par­tic­u­larly dry, with one-third less rain and an aver­age tem­per­a­ture of 0.49 ºC above aver­age across the county. The increase was even more pro­nounced in the north, where the aver­age tem­per­a­ture was 0.97 ºC above aver­age.

The analy­sis was based on data pro­vided by the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s cli­mate data cen­ter, which has recorded global tem­per­a­tures since 1880.

See Also:2021 Was Earth’s Fifth Hottest Year, Scientists Say

Farmers are already feel­ing the effects of the abnor­mal heat as var­i­ous fruits and veg­eta­bles mature ahead of sched­ule. Asparagus, straw­ber­ries, peas, broad beans, arti­chokes and cour­gettes are already avail­able on mar­ket shelves.

The off-sea­son heat is alter­ing the tra­di­tional crop cycles and caus­ing an early awak­en­ing of nature, with daisies and prim­roses bloom­ing in the fields and almond trees, apri­cots and peaches already in bloom,” Coldiretti said.

Italian farm­ers fear that upcom­ing fruit har­vests could be com­pro­mised by extreme weather events, such as those that com­pli­cated the 2020 har­vest, as these crops are par­tic­u­larly sen­si­tive to changes in the cli­mate.

To fur­ther worsen the sit­u­a­tion, alarm over the drought is par­tic­u­larly severe in the north­ern regions of the coun­try, known locally as Italy’s food val­ley.”

Officials esti­mate the water deficit ranges from 50 per­cent to 90 per­cent com­pared with 2021, deficit peaks in the Piedmont and Veneto regions.

See Also:Producers Express Alarm in Latest Olive Oil Times Survey

The drought in the Po River Valley threat­ens more than 30 per­cent of national agri­cul­tural pro­duc­tion, includ­ing tomato sauce, fruit, veg­eta­bles and wheat and half of the live­stock of the coun­try,” Coldiretti said. If the dry con­di­tions con­tinue, farm­ers will be forced to pro­vide water with emer­gency irri­ga­tion.”

While water­ways and lakes are at their low­est lev­els – the Po River’s water lev­els have fallen by more than three meters at cer­tain points – another pri­mary con­cern regards the crops sown in autumn, such as bar­ley, wheat and rye. The lack of water may com­pro­mise their growth phase.

At the same time, the dry and hard soils might make it chal­leng­ing to sow corn, sun­flower and soy­beans, sched­uled for the upcom­ing weeks, Coldiretti added.

Olive farm­ers will not be con­cerned yet about the cur­rent lack of rain, with the blos­som­ing of the trees unlikely to hap­pen until April or May. However, a hot­ter spring than nor­mal would be of con­cern.

Olive trees begin to flower when aver­age daily tem­per­a­tures exceed 20 ºC. If these tem­per­a­tures occur too early in the sea­son, the trees are at risk of late spring frosts, which kill the blos­soms and mean there will be no fruit.

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