Water restrictions in effect across France as drought threatens crop production

Drought and a succession of three heat waves since June – attributed by scientific consensus to climate change – have sharply reduced river flows across France, multiplying water restriction measures, directly affecting agricultural production.

Across the fields of France, crops are suffering from heat and drought, with water restrictions worrying the farming community, particularly with regard to maize production, which has already been hit hard by the record high temperatures.

With just 9.7 millimeters of rain in July according to the weather service Météo France, rainfall over the past four weeks was 84 percent lower than the average figures for July over the past three decades.

The French drought has hampered agriculture and is forcing extensive restrictions on the use of fresh water.

The cumulative effects of drought and lack of water occur during pollination of maize – a crucial period for the crop’s development.

According to Xavier de Castelbajac, head of grain marketing at the Maïsadour cooperative group, maize is generally sown between April and May.

When the plants begin to grow, the pollination period begins in early July.

“The flower will fertilize the plant and, thanks to this fertilization, an ear of corn will be formed,” before it is harvested at the beginning of October, explains De Castelbajac.

Crops fall dramatically

The group, which has 60% of its plots irrigated, has noticed a clear difference compared to those that are not – the yield drop is estimated at between 10 and 20% for some plots, compared to a drop of 50%, or even more , without irrigation.

Maïsadour has around 70,000 hectares of grain in France.

On a national scale, the proportion of corn plots considered to be in “good to excellent” condition has fallen from 75% to 68% in the space of a week, according to FranceAgriMer’s latest CéréObs barometer published on 29 July.

According to France’s Ministry of Agriculture, annual water consumption nationwide is estimated at 5.3 billion cubic meters per year; agriculture is the leading water consuming activity accounting for 45% of total water supply, ahead of power station cooling at 31%, drinking water at 21% and only 3% for industrial use.

But in the face of dry soils, irrigation is the only way to guarantee maize yield levels that industries count on – especially for animal feed.

Paris region in drought warning

Meanwhile, the prefecture of the Ile-de-France department has placed Paris, Hauts-de-Seine, Seine-Saint-Denis and Val-de-Marne on “drought alert”, with all departments in metropolitan France now affected by the climate. phenomenon amid calls for water-saving measures.

On 25 July, the flow of the River Seine fell below the threshold of 81m3/s at Paris-Austerlitz train station, triggering a transition to drought alert.

In the Paris region, individuals, local authorities and businesses have been encouraged by the prefecture – but not obliged – to ration consumption, by avoiding watering green areas or roads, washing vehicles and limiting domestic consumption.

All 96 departments in France are now involved in a national “drying plan”.

46 departments are at “crisis” level red, with only priority water use allowed, such as drinking water, hygiene, health and safety.

In the 38 wards at “enhanced warning” level orange, pumping for agriculture has been reduced to at least 50% and there are restrictions on watering gardens and golf courses.

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