ROME, ITALY — Italy, the largest producer of rice for the European Union (EU), will plant its smallest area for the crop in 23 years as it faces a second year of drought, agricultural observers are warning.

Roberto Magnaghi, director general of Ente Nazionale Risi, a public rice research body, told Reuters no more than 211,000 hectares will be sown with rice in 2023. The 2023 estimate is down by 7,400 hectares from 2022 and by 16,000 compared to 2021.

Italy is responsible for about half of the EU’s rice production. According to the European Commission, Italy produced 714,000 tonnes of milled rice equivalent in 2022, down significantly from 886,000 tonnes in 2021.

Italian rice is mostly grown in northern regions of Lombardy. Italy is the world’s only grower of types such as Arborio and Carnaroli that are most suitable for the popular Italian dish risotto.

The sowing season starts in April when farmers plant seeds in pools 30 to 40 centimeters deep. These must then be constantly irrigated to keep the upcoming sprouts under water.

Soil moisture levels still have not recovered from last year’s drought and current snowfall accumulation in the Italian Alps is lower than in 2022, said Andrea Toreti, an agriculture expert at the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre.

Scientists and environmental groups sounded the alarm about Italian water shortages in January after the sharp drop in winter snowfall.