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Drought on the Ahr: Another drought is highly likely

Drought on the Ahr : Another drought is highly likely

The Rhineland-Palatinate Chamber of Agriculture has made a statement on the continuing drought and its influence on the agricultural economy and suggest that a new period of drought could be on the cards.

After an extremely dry April, there was at least some rainfall in May. However, meteorologists predict that the probability of another drought remains high. Within the Rhineland-Palatinate Chamber of Agriculture there are different opinions about the situation at the moment, explains its president, economist Norbert Schindler: “Not only is the continuing drought causing problems, but the effects of the corona pandemic are also clearly noticeable.” Overall, the situation is difficult, but not yet dramatic. A look at the individual agricultural sectors provides an insight into the situation.

In viticulture, drought mainly affects freshly planted vines. A lack of soil moisture during planting leads to a lack of “soil coverage” of the roots: “In this case, depending on the soil type, the necessary direct contact between root and soil cannot take place. The roots can dry out and cannot absorb nutrients and water,” explains Markus Heil, head of the viticulture department. Winegrowers usually water the vines directly after planting them, although this requires several litres of water per vine. As soon as the young vines have sprouted, further water must be provided if drought conditions persist, because the roots of the young vines do not reach deeper than 25 to 30 centimetres into the soil.

Older plants do not suffer from drought stress at this time of year because “the requirement for water is still relatively low and mainly because the roots reach several metres deep in some cases. Plants that have already experienced several dry years have, as a result, developed accordingly”, says the head of the viticulture department.

Dairy market under pressure due to impending feed shortage

“Grain prices have risen slightly. The growing conditions Europe wide are rather poor, but the weather situation can change quickly,” explains Harald Kopp from the Business Administration and Market Department. “A little rain is sometimes enough and the prices go down again.” We can no longer expect top harvests, but there is still no threat of crop failure.

The situation is different for dairy farmers, for example, who are concerned about feed for their animals. “The first mowing is imminent and some have already carried it out. If the dry weather continues, basic fodder will become scarce and hay prices will rise,” predicts Kopp. This will also have an impact on the mixed feed market. “Farmers will have to buy a lot of fodder if the drought continues, which will cause considerable problems for some farms.” However, the market for milk and meat is under pressure due to the coronavirus pandemic. “The effects of the corona crisis are currently much more far-reaching than the drought,” Harald Kopp said. The lack of demand from the catering trade and cancelled events in the spring as well as during the rest of the year could have considerable negative effects. Winegrowers and brewers are of course also affected. “If the cattle farmers now reduce their stocks due to the continuing dryness and lack of fodder, more meat will come onto a weakened market”, Kopp said.

The coronavirus crisis also explains high grain prices

Another reason for rising cereal prices was to be found with consumers. “Germans hoarded flour and other grain products during the first phase of the coronavirus crisis, which drove up prices,” explains Harald Kopp.

Volker Berg from the Chamber's crop cultivation department knows that the first problems are emerging with rapeseed. “The rape sometimes sheds its flowers and even pods,” says Berg. However, the picture is very heterogeneous. Currently, you can see normally developed plants in the field, because the farmer has ploughed in the poorly developed rape.

Irrigation systems are standard in the cultivation of ornamental plants, vegetables and in tree nurseries. Therefore, drought initially only has an effect on the price of the products, says Welmar Rietmann, Head of the Horticulture Division. “The situation is different with fruit. The trees can cope well with prolonged drought at the start. However, in the case of apple tree, drought stress can lead to the fall of young fruit,” says Rietmann. That means there are few and small fruits with few seeds. The main objective of the tree, namely propagation, is impaired and the apples fall off. Due to their roots, trees are better equipped against drought than other plants. “But drought is still a problem at some point,” said Rietmann.

(Original text; Günther Schmitt, translation John Chandler)