Dry French weather threatens corn and other crops

by Drew Lerner
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French wheat production will be down to its lowest level since 2003.
 
It is no secret that French wheat production was seriously cut this year due to too much rain, not enough sunshine and cool weather at times. The area planted to wheat in Europe was a record, but production forecasts were reduced significantly in recent weeks when adverse weather conditions failed to support the French crop. Now France has a completely different problem. Dryness has been prevailing for an extended period of time, and even though hot weather has been limited the dryness is likely taking away yield from corn, sunseed and a number of other crops.

 

French wheat output, as predicted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), is expected to be 31.5 million tonnes, down 8.6 million tonnes from an estimate made in July. France is the largest producer of wheat in Europe, and its failings will show up in the ending stocks this year. French production will be down to its lowest level since 2003. Much of the blame goes to inclement weather in late May and June, when much of the crop was flowering. Additional rain during the harvest season further delayed fieldwork and reduced the quality of grain.

France was hoping to get a good summer crop off the land to help fix farmer income that was going to be affected by the poor winter crop. However, that dream will not come to fruition because dryness has been prevailing in west-central and northwestern France for many weeks. The area produces 37% of the nation’s sunseed and 30% of its corn. Dryness also affected the important southern France production region, although dryness in areas near the Spanish border has not been nearly as persistent or serious as that further north. Nevertheless, the situation has unirrigated crops feeling the pressure of lower production.

The month of July generated less than half of normal rainfall in north-central, northwestern, west-central and a part of central France with nearly 60% of that described region getting less than 25% of normal rain. The month of August was quite similar with most of western and a part of central France reporting less than half of normal rainfall and about 20% of the region reporting less than 25% of normal moisture. Drier-than-usual conditions also have affected parts of Spain, Portugal, Italy, Greece, eastern Romania, eastern Bulgaria and parts of the Ukraine. However, out of all these areas France has had the most persistent notably lighter-than-usual rainfall. The only “saving grace” for France has been the absence of persistent heat.

Temperatures have been hot in France periodically, but not as hot as one might imagine with more than six weeks of notable dryness. The last week of August got off to a blazing start with temperatures soaring into the 80s and 90s Fahrenheit while rainfall was absent and the ground quite dry.

The nation is destined for a further decrease in summer crop production. It should be noted, however, that eastern parts of the nation have not been nearly as dry as the west.

It is interesting to note that neighboring areas of Germany and southern England also have reported much less rain than normal. The difference is that both of those countries have not been hot very often and the milder conditions have helped to conserve subsoil moisture.

All of the dryness in Europe recently has brought fears and concerns about global warming back into the limelight.  However, a research paper funded by the European Commission designed to support global climate change written by Emmanuel Garnier, Dionysis Assimacopoulos, Henry A.J. van Lanen representing CNRS-Université de Caen Basse Normandie, France, NTUA, National Technical University of Athens, Greece WU, Wageningen University, The Netherlands, clearly points to other significant droughts that occurred in France and other portions of Europe that were far more serious than last year’s drought in Europe and still worse than the 2003 drought. One drought occurred from 1717 to 1719 and resulted in serious famine and human health problems across the continent. That drought and another well documented drought in 1741 were many times worse than any recorded in recent decades, and there was very little industrialization back in those days to change the climate.

The research paper also identifies a French drought from the winter of 1577 through the autumn of 1578.  What was the cause of drought back then? Was it the beginning of global warming or was it part of a repeating atmospheric cycle?  The 19th and 20th centuries have not had so many concentrated years of drought like those of the 18th century — at least not until 1950 when the number of droughts began to increase once again.

In the meantime, dryness in France this summer is just one region of dryness. Another is in eastern Romania and eastern Bulgaria where late summer dryness has hurt unirrigated summer crops. A larger region of concern over dryness has evolved in eastern Ukraine and portions of Russia’s Southern region. None of these droughts are very serious, although there has been some negative impact on production.

A new area of dryness recently has evolved in east-central China. Most of the China dryness has been in the Yangtze River Basin where severe flooding occurred in early July. Extreme high temperatures in late August across this developing dry region were in the upper 90s to 108 degrees Fahrenheit recently. It was stressful to crops and livestock, but only to those that survived the floods of earlier this summer. Many crops were lost in early July when near record flooding resulted. Nature tends to counterbalance itself. When one extreme weather condition occurs over a prolonged period of time it is often followed by some extreme conditions in the opposite direction, and that seems to be what has evolved in recent weeks.

Some folks would attribute the 2016 regional droughts around the world to the developing La Niña event. However, that event has been a real laggard, showing little aggressiveness in its development and leaving most of the world with only a slight bias from the phenomenon.

Not all of the world has been drying out and heating up recently. Australia has been quite wet this autumn and winter, and recent temperatures have fallen below average. The moisture abundance has wheat, barley and canola poised for big production this year if it does not become too wet. The situation may be similar to that of the United States with frequent rainfall of significance occurring to support a tremendous winter crop.

India also has done well with rainfall this summer, and that has summer grain and oilseed crops on a successful road toward high production potentials.

Developing La Niña also has brought some speculation over South America dryness this spring, but some significant cooling will have to occur in the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean soon to support that thought. World Weather, Inc. believes there is a fair chance that weak La Niña conditions will be around this spring and summer in South America, but a full blown drought may be hard to come by in southern Brazil, eastern Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay without a more aggressive development trend toward La Niña.  
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