Crops ravaged by drought and locust plague

The droughts in Europe will hit crop production hard this year. Analysis by the European Commission forecasts a drop of at least 28 million tonnes from last years figures.

The Commission's forecast provides yield estimates for the main crops throughout the EU, comparing these with average harvests over the last five years.

It warns that durum wheat production will drop by around 24% and barley by around 10%.

Production areas most affected are in Spain, Portugal, France, Italy and central Greece. Although this is not as large an area as in the drought of 2003, in some areas, such as the Iberian Peninsula and the west and south west of France, the situation appears critical and the dry period has lasted far longer.

In 2003 the dry spell started in March and lasted until the end of the summer. This time, the rains stopped in November 2004 and show no sign of returning water sources to normal levels anytime soon.

In France the damage to crops has been exacerbated by a plague of locusts which have hatched as a result of the drought.

Normally their numbers are controlled by rain, but now their numbers have rocketed. With no known predators they are destroying everything in their path.

All countries affected by the drought have imposed water restrictions (see related story) and emergency drought meetings have been held.

Experts and locals have warned of a return of the forest fires that destroyed large areas during the heatwave and drought of 2003. During that dry-spell 15,000 people were reported to have died throughout France.

So far, nobody is reported to have died from the heat or drought, but authorities are taking no chances. Reports in French newspapers say that prefects in a number of cities are forcing reduced speed limits to cut pollution and raising medical staffing levels to cope with any emergencies.

By David Hopkins




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