An extremely dry period in France is causing damage to grain crops in the European Union’s largest producer of cereal crops.
France has experienced an exceptionally dry period during the month of May 2022, as predicted by Meteo France already in March. This follows an earlier reduction in rainfall by 35% over the first three months of the year compared to the long-term average.
The French geological service reported that limited winter rains had negatively affected groundwater levels, especially in February and March which is a pivotal period in which winter rainfall has a significant effect on groundwater levels.
During the month of April, depending on the region, rainfall remained at between 30% and 70% of the long-term average. By early May, little groundwater recharge had taken place and most French soils were significantly dry across most of the country. By the 18th of May, two thirds of France’s soils were classified as ‘dry to very dry’, and more than 50% of the 16 French departments had instituted water use restrictions.
Until now, the drought has been most pronounced in the regions of Vendée, Provence and the Côte d’Azur. According to hydrologist Emma Haziza, France has experienced more and more historic droughts since 2017, and it is clear that changes are accelerating, but the combined consequences of past and existing interventions in the water cycle are not yet clear.
Nevertheless, some parameters are being observed, such as the fact that 2018, 2019 and 2020 were the warmest years on record in France and that in 2020 a period commenced in which there were 20 consecutive months of record temperatures.
On average, June and July are the months in which water consumption is highest, and in these months irrigated agriculture can account for up to 80% of water utilisation. Emma Haziza argues that the post-war model of agricultural production has relied heavily on the expansion of monocropping such as cereal production, primarily for animal fodder. This system is leading to soil degradation, and the government supported practice of using plastic lined farm dams to capture water for irrigation is stimulating evaporation and limiting the recharge of groundwater.
By contrast, Joël Limouzin, president of the agricultural chamber of commerce in Vendée, argues that capturing water on farm dams is a key vehicle for water and food security in France.
Lucile Schmid, vice president of the think tank ‘la Fabrique ecologique’, argues that climate change is resulting in increasingly unpredictable water supplies in France, and that the development of infrastructure in the country has taken place to the detriment of natural infrastructure such as wetlands which provide buffers against variations in water flow.