Germany’s grain harvest is below average this year due to persistent droughts affecting farmers in many regions, but unlike environmentalists and climate activists, Germany’s farmers’ union says Brussels should stop imposing restrictions to production.
Germany’s grain harvest has reached around 43 million tonnes this year, and although this represents an increase of almost 2% compared to last year, it remains well below the annual average for the years 2014 to 2021 combined.
This is indicated by the harvest balance sheet presented by the Association of German Farmers on Tuesday 23 August.
Although the EU and Germany have called for measures to increase domestic production due to the effects of the war in Ukraine, crop yields and quality still vary considerably from region to region and depend on rainfall. , according to the report. He added that the lack of rain recorded from March was decisive for the losses recorded in many regions.
“The prolonged drought in many parts of the country shows once again that farmers are feeling the effects of climate change very directly,” explained the association’s president, Joachim Rukwied, during the presentation of the report.
The association added that the drought is also impacting pastoralists, with some already having to burst into their winter fodder stocks due to low yields of stocks like maize.
Hot and dry weather has also impacted summer yields across the bloc, which are expected to be well below previous forecasts, according to the European Commission’s Crop Monitoring Report for August released on Monday (22 August). .
Central Germany, for example, is one of the worst-hit regions in the bloc, the report says.
Time to change EU green farming rules?
According to Rukwied, the crop losses recorded this year should lead the Commission not to impose additional restrictions on agricultural production.
Recent crop yields have made it clear that ‘there must be no possibility of further restricting food production region-wide’, said Rukwied, who called the Commission’s plans ‘irresponsible’ aimed at reducing pesticides.
However, environmentalists and climate activists see the situation differently and believe the union is drawing the wrong conclusions about how to ensure long-term food security.
The poor harvest results “should convince even die-hard obstructionists to finally anchor effective climate and environmental protection as an integral part of agriculture”, said Johann Rathke, agricultural policy coordinator at the of the leading wildlife conservation organization, WWF.
According to him, the recent relaxation of green standards in the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) does the opposite. This is “exactly the wrong way to go”, he added.
At the end of July, the Commission authorized states to relax certain environmental requirements under the new CAP to increase national production due to the war in Ukraine.
In Germany, the federal and state governments have agreed to use the option proposed by the Commission a few weeks ago, allowing farmers not to leave 4% of their arable land fallow from 2023 to receive the full EU grants.
Little rain this year, too much next year
Meanwhile, Rukwied stressed that farms should continue to adapt to the effects of climate change in the future.
Jet streams – fast, narrow, winding air currents in the atmosphere that are important for the weather in central Europe – are linked to summer heat waves, say climatologists. German scientists have even pointed to a “double jet stream phenomenon” affecting Western Europe.
In other words, high pressure years are characterized by persistent drought and heat. In contrast, low pressure years are accompanied by heavy rainfall over a long period, such as when Germany and neighboring countries were hit by severe flooding in 2021.
For farmers, this means facing the challenge of planning for either heat and drought or wet and cool weather – not knowing which scenario will occur in any given year, Rukwied said.
To adapt to changed climatic conditions, many farmers are trying, for example, to make greater use of water-saving and soil-conserving methods, he explained, such as mulch sowing, in which the vegetable mulch – the remnants of the previously cultivated plant – is left on the arable land.
He added that new, hardier plant varieties are also essential to withstand changing weather conditions.
[Edited by Alice Taylor]