Spring Freeze Devastates Crops in Europe

Unseasonably cold weather damaged blossoming olive trees in France, Greece and Italy. The full extent of the damage will be known in the coming weeks.

By Paolo DeAndreis
Apr. 13, 2021 11:19 UTC

A sud­den cold snap stretch­ing from France to Greece has dam­aged a range of crops at cru­cial moments in their devel­op­ment, includ­ing olive trees.

Farmers in Italy have been hit par­tic­u­larly hard by the unsea­son­ably cold weather. Freezing tem­per­a­tures abruptly inter­rupted the oth­er­wise warm spring and impacted the blos­som­ing of fruit trees.

According to the first esti­mates, freez­ing nights have affected a range of fruit and veg­etable crops, with a spe­cific con­cern for vine­yards, par­tic­u­larly exposed ones in the northerly Po Valley.

Damage has also been recorded in the south­ern Italian region of Puglia, accord­ing to the farm­ers asso­ci­a­tion Coldiretti. Temperatures dropped as low as –5 ºC in areas of the olive-oil-rich region and fruit (not only olive) yields have been halved.”

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In the fol­low­ing weeks, it will also be pos­si­ble to under­stand the extent of the dam­age to olive groves in the south of the coun­try, in which the pre­vi­ously high tem­per­a­tures had trig­gered the early stages of flow­er­ing.

According to the Italian Confederation of Farmers (CIA), the cen­tral and north­ern regions of Tuscany, Emilia Romagna, Veneto and Piedmont were severely hit.

In these areas, dam­ages could impact up to 75 per­cent of the crop yields. The CIA explained that in Tuscany, where tem­per­a­tures had dropped to –7 ºC in cer­tain areas, some farm­ers chose to set hay bales on fire to raise the tem­per­a­tures in the vine­yards dur­ing the cold­est nights.

In Umbria, olive grow­ers are still esti­mat­ing the dam­ages after the tem­per­a­ture shock, with a sud­den drop from 27 ºC to –8 ºC. The frost has cer­tainly left its mark there,” the con­fed­er­a­tion said.

In Umbria, more dam­age is expected in the region’s vine­yards. Under these con­di­tions, even with a per­fect cli­mate, the har­vest will be dis­ap­point­ing,” the CIA said.

Overall, the con­fed­er­a­tion esti­mates that the low tem­per­a­tures in April have cut Italian agri­cul­ture yields by at least 60 per­cent across the coun­try.

We are mon­i­tor­ing the sit­u­a­tion,” Dino Scanavino, the pres­i­dent of the CIA, said. A quick response is needed, such as the dec­la­ra­tion of a nat­ural dis­as­ter to acti­vate the com­pen­sa­tion pro­ce­dures for farm­ers.”

At the same time, we need to boost inno­va­tion in risk man­age­ment instru­ments, which must face the cli­mate change in progress,” he added. It is also needed to stim­u­late and increase the con­tri­bu­tion to crop, ani­mal and plant insur­ance.”

Scanavino also asked for new funds from European and national sources to finance inno­v­a­tive tech­no­log­i­cal sys­tems of crop pro­tec­tion.”

Rainfall that fol­lowed the frost has also hurt pro­duc­ers, Coldietti added. While rain­fall in the Po Valley was 92 per­cent below aver­age in March, the lat­est heavy storms might do more harm than good to relieve the drought.

Coldiretti said that crop regions need steady and con­sis­tent rains to reverse the cur­rent hydro­log­i­cal scarcity but do not ben­e­fit from short peri­ods of heavy rains, which do more dam­age than good.

According to Coldiretti, the steady increase of extreme weather events has caused more than €14 bil­lion of dam­age to Italian agri­cul­ture.


In Greece, freez­ing tem­per­a­tures in a few areas have severely impacted a range of fruit and veg­etable crops, includ­ing vine­yards and some olive groves.

According to Agrotypos, olive grow­ers are just now begin­ning to esti­mate the true extent of the dam­ages in some areas of the Peloponnese penin­sula. The organic agri­cul­ture coop­er­a­tive, Biolivia, in Olynthos, said that freeze has impacted olive grow­ers, with some groves in Halkdiki hit by frost.

However, the over­all sit­u­a­tion is not com­pa­ra­ble to what hap­pened with the frost in Italy.

Regarding the last 10 days, we haven’t had any par­tic­u­lar prob­lems with the weather con­di­tions in Greece and the gen­eral con­di­tions were good for the cul­ti­va­tion almost all over Greece,” Kostas Liris, a strate­gic con­sul­tant for the agri-food indus­try and NYIOOC World Olive Oil Competition panel leader, told Olive Oil Times.

We have had minor prob­lems between March 23 to 26, with tem­per­a­tures drop­ping below zero in sev­eral places,” he added. We even had snow in the east­ern islands of the Aegean Sea, but that lasted for a few hours, so it did­n’t affect the gen­eral con­di­tion of the olive trees or other cul­ti­va­tion.”

A few small pro­duc­ers in spe­cific areas have now reported some icy nights and a few hail events, but those did not affect the crops as a whole,” Liris con­tin­ued. At the moment, the gen­eral cli­mate con­di­tions seem favor­able, and these events will not affect pro­duc­tion.”

For Liris, the water short­age fac­ing the Mediterranean basin will pose a much larger prob­lem for Greek pro­duc­ers in the cur­rent crop year.

However, farm­ers in France have not been so lucky. Serious dam­age has been reported across the wine-soaked south of the coun­try, where tem­per­a­tures dropped as low as –6 ºC.

According to WineMag, much of the dam­age caused to the cur­rent grape crop is due to above the aver­age tem­per­a­tures recorded in March fol­lowed by the freez­ing April days.

All main wine pro­duc­tion areas, which include the most pro­duc­tive olive grow­ing regions in the coun­try, were ham­mered by the freeze. Grape pro­duc­tion is expected to decrease by 50 to 100 per­cent in some areas.

However, Alexandra Paris, the com­mu­ni­ca­tion and eco­nom­ics direc­tor at France Olive, told Olive Oil Times that it is still too early to deter­mine how these adverse weather events will impact olive grow­ers.

The effects of frost are still dif­fi­cult to pin­point on olive trees,” she said. The flo­ral shoots were more or less advanced depend­ing on the ter­ri­tory, but the flow­ers are not there yet. We should know more within 15 days to three weeks.”


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