French Farmers Face Worsening Drought; Northern Soil Is Driest in 50 Years

Farmers in France, the European Union’s largest producer of wheat, barley and sugar beets, faced more restrictions on water use amid a worsening drought, with no sign of relief in the next few weeks.

Soils in the country’s northern half, where grains, grapes and rapeseed are grown, were the driest in 50 years at the end of April, the Environment Ministry said in a report today. The quantity of water stored as mountain snow was “very inferior” to the average from 1995 to 2005 as of May 1, it said.

“The situation is truly critical,” Environment Minister Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet told reporters in Paris today. “Rainfall in the next few weeks will be decisive. It’s not looking good. It’ll be dry and sunny in the next two weeks.”

Conditions are “worrisome” for many farmers, Agriculture Minister Bruno Le Maire said last week. France’s wheat crop, Europe’s largest, is in a “danger zone” as the drought cuts the potential harvest, the country’s crops office said May 11.

Authorities have implemented the most severe level of water restrictions in 20 of mainland France’s 96 departments, the ministry said. That’s up from six as of May 12, according to a document handed out at a press conference in Paris. Water is being restricted in 28 departments overall, up from 26 last week, according to the environment ministry.

This month may be “one of the driest” Mays on record for the country, Michele Blanchard, a researcher at forecaster Meteo France, said in an interview in Paris today.

The drought is comparable to 1976, with the exception that April temperatures were higher this year, Blanchard said at a press conference in the French capital. France’s soils as of May 1 were as dry as they normally are on July 1, she said.

Meteo France forecast “no significant rain” for the next two weeks, and temperatures will start rising in the next few days to reach 28 degrees Celsius (82 degrees Fahrenheit) in the Paris region by the end of this week, Blanchard said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Rudy Ruitenberg in Paris at rruitenberg@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Claudia Carpenter at ccarpenter2@bloomberg.net.

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