Summer in April: Farmers hoping for rain

24th April 2007, Comments 0 comments

24 April 2007, Munich (dpa) - With cherry trees and fields of rapeseed in full bloom and the ground dry and dusty, farmers in Germany are worrying about their crop. Midsummer has turned up in mid-April and it's taking its toll on farmers. "The heat is all right, but the water is missing," says cereal farmer Peter Seidl from Eching near Munich. "Budding is great, there is no damage due to freezing and the crop is lush - but this means that the plants will need lots of water." Urgently hoping for rain, farme

24 April 2007

Munich (dpa) - With cherry trees and fields of rapeseed in full bloom and the ground dry and dusty, farmers in Germany are worrying about their crop. Midsummer has turned up in mid-April and it's taking its toll on farmers.

"The heat is all right, but the water is missing," says cereal farmer Peter Seidl from Eching near Munich. "Budding is great, there is no damage due to freezing and the crop is lush - but this means that the plants will need lots of water."

Urgently hoping for rain, farmers have at least until the weekend before any significant change of weather is in sight.

"Large rainfalls are not to be expected," forecaster Stefan Eisenbach says. "We are expecting high pressure weather in the near future."

Seidl has just inspected his fields, having looked closely at the leaves of young plants - as they are in danger of sunburn. "No sunburn there, so far - knock on wood," he says.

Eastern Germany in particular is suffering from drought. "We desperately need rain," said Jens Rademacher, consultant of the German Farmers' Union. In some areas, surfaces planted with rapeseed or potatoes already have to be irrigated, which under normal circumstances is not necessary until midsummer.

However, only a small part of the acreage can be irrigated. If water cannot be pumped onto the field from a well, the irrigation becomes too expensive.

This year's problem is that the water table is relatively low due to a drought during the winter. In farmer Seidl's case the water table is at 5.50 metres, two metres below last year's. This is the borderline for operating irrigation systems cost-effectively.

In the medium-term irrigation could even cause prices to rise. "Farmers will have to start counting pennies," says Martin Kick of the Bavarian Farmers' Union.

German farmers however are getting used to climate change and even see advantages outweighing the disadvantages.

"According to prognoses, Germany could benefit overall from global warming," Kick says, suggesting yields could increase.

Because of the hot weather in Germany, more and more farmers are resorting to southern European plants because these can endure hot temperatures and need less water.

"We are already trying to select plants which can bear drought," says Seidl. "We already know of varieties that are able to sustain longer dry periods."

Whereas the barley yields have remained low because it is a crop that is very sensitive to the sun, southern European varieties of maize now flourish in Germany.

Instead of conventional wheat, Italian durum wheat could be cultivated, because it can endure heat more easily. In Austria, Kiwis are already grown and experts are not ruling out the possibility of melons being grown along the Rhine valley.

Seidl has also made plans to benefit form higher temperatures: "I am interested in the cultivation of dry rice. If the bureaucracy allows it, I am going to get seed next year and give it a try. Agriculture is an easy business. You just have to do what's possible."

How this year's crop will turn out cannot be foretold until June or July. And nobody knows how the weather is going to develop up until then or over the summer.

An old saying among farmers goes - "As the weather from spring till mid-April, so the summer shall be, may God will."

Forecasters aren't so sure and dare not predict. "Some long-term models indicate that we are to expect a very hot summer," forecaster Eisenbach explains, "but it is not certain at all - you may as well throw dice."

Unperturbed, farmer Seidl calmly waits for the summer. "A farmer who gets worked up over the weather has missed his vocation," he says.

DPA

Subject: German news

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