Tuesday, 17 May 2011

The Drought

Indre et Loire is drought declared and water restrictions have been imposed. At first the restrictions just applied to farmers extracting water for irrigation from certain small watercourses such as the Claise and the Aigronne. No one has been able to irrigate crops from the beginning of the year from these rivers. This is referred to as an 'automatic' restriction, which means that once the water levels in reservoirs reach a certain point, irrigation is forbidden.

The worst hit area is the south-east of the department (where we are) and especially the Indrois valley (just to our north-east). Along the Indrois, you are now only allowed to water your lawn, wash your car or flush out your gutters on odd days if you live on the south bank and even days if you live on the north. These restrictions have come into force about 2 months earlier than the previous few years. This is a 'level 1' set of restrictions, imposed by the prefect as he/she feels is appropriate. These restrictions can be ramped up to 'level 3' which includes not being able to water lawns, fill swimming pools and only being allowed to water your vegetable garden at night.

The pawlonia at our orchard this time last year, in full bloom.
This year it didn't flower at all - I assume a response to the drought.
Also currently affected is any work on canals and ponds that connect to the Indrois or its tributaries. Maintenance work on sluices and weirs means that water is inevitably lost, so it is forbidden.

The departement has received nearly 50% less rain than normal since the beginning of the year. Whilst the warm dry weather has been a joy for holidaymakers, farmers are worried. It is being compared to the drought of 1976, a benchmark year of unprecedented drought throughout Europe. Now European meteorologists are predicting an even worse year. On the upside though, archaeologists are looking forward to a year of unusually clear parchmarks, with the potential for aerial photography to reveal interesting historic sites. Those who don't live here are probably not noticing anything but the extraordinarily good weather. This is gentle countryside, with deciduous broadleaf forests that are green no matter what the rainfall at this time of year. The wheat crops look lush and even, just like normal. Clover, lucerne and dandelions all look green even when there's been no rain. It's only when you look closer, at individual plants, that the problems are apparent. Plants survive, they look green, but they don't grow and they don't produce fruit.

An organic walnut grove. The owner has put off mowing this year, I assume
because it keeps the soil cooler and provides wildflowers for insects.
Since February the rainfall in Indre-et-Loire has been between 30 and 50 mm. To bring it up to a normal amount, we need another 80mm. To deliver this effectively it would have to rain for a month virtually every day. We should get about 120mm during spring and 250mm in the first half of the year, but around Preuilly the spring rainfall has been at most 30mm. Some places in the area have had literally no spring rain.

Farmers are finding their hay yields are down by about half. Likewise the wheat crop is producing only 2-3 ears per plant, instead of the normal 5-6, and the quality is poor - lightweight and grey, but the crop is maturing 10-15 days ahead of schedule. The damage to the winter crops is now irreversible, the farmers say. The summer crops of maize and sunflowers have been planted, and miraculously are coming up. Some of them look a bit patchy, especially where the soil has a bit more sand. It's too early to say how they will perform come harvest time, but if we do get a repeat of 76, it won't be good.

Most dairy farmers here expect to produce enough hay every year for their goats or cows, but this year, not only is the quantity lower than expected, they are having to feed this year's hay to the stock already because there isn't enough pasture. The price is clearly going to increase and wise farmers have already bought hay.

The whole situation is compounded by this being a particularly dry year following 2 consecutive dry summers for many farmers around Preuilly, completely wiping out stores made in the preceeding rather wet year.

Even for those farmers in a position to irrigate, the increase in the price of diesel to run the pumps is another worry. The only positive thing they have to say is that with the lack of moisture comes a corresponding lack of disease, although some farmers are noticing an increase in the numbers of insect pests.

Last year the drought and fires in Russia caused an increase in cereal prices which European farmers benefitted from. This year it is going to be the reverse situation.



Diane said...

The situation is really serious, I am so sad that our cedar tree at the bottom of the garden which must be many years old, it is huge, looks like it is dead. Diane

Simon said...

Diane. Its sad when you lose a favorite tree

Susan said...

Diane: I had lunch with a friend yesterday and she said that in 76 the most noticeable impact was on big old conifers like sequoias, wellingtonias and cedars, and a number in the district died.

Sheila said...

Here in Texas we are are also in a
severe drought situation, even
the weeds are drooping. Farmers
and ranchers are devastated.
But halfway across the country
the crops are underwater, and
levees are overflowing. We
need a big pipeline.

GaynorB said...


A very interesting insight into the water situation, and more importantly it's effects.
These effects will be felt long after the rain comes (when it comes).

Jenny said...

I ditto what Sheila said...here in central texas, as a ranchers wife we are struggling a bit, and there were no bluebonnets this year (Texas state wildflower) I can only pray we see a late spring/early summer turnaround.

Simon said...

It's always a worry when tehre isn't enough water for the weeds (or indeed the State Wildflower) to grow.

Around here, you know you're in trouble when the blackberries struggle.

ckb said...

Our back yard is parched, for sure. I've never seen it so dry this early in the season. And we've had more rainfall than you have at Preuilly.

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