This agroclimatologist from ITK, in Clapiers in the Hérault, warns about the climatic situation in Occitania, before a summer which promises to be particularly hot and dry.
Is the drought gaining ground from year to year, until it becomes habitual?
Yes, we went from 5% to 12% of agricultural land in drought in France then 1959, when it rains so much every year. Climate change induces a difference in the distribution of precipitation between the seasons. It rains more in winter and less in summer. We expect an increase of up to 20% in drought areas in France by 2050. This is an inevitable progression, which will further accentuate the difference between winter, which is increasingly rainy, and winter. summer, increasingly dry. This is a trend described, unfortunately, by all French scientists. I am very pessimistic for the future, like most of my colleagues. What we say is that today’s exception will become tomorrow’s norm, like every year. This is also what is said in the IPCC report. We are not alarmists, or else the situation is alarming. The general public is not necessarily aware of it, it does not know the shortages because we are in a globalized system.
What are the consequences ?
Agriculture is subject to rainfall, especially in spring and summer, because the crops are in place. What happens in winter does not necessarily have consequences for agricultural raw materials that are not in the field. In winter, the rain has less consequences than in summer. It is not the temperature records that make agriculture react, but the duration of the episodes of drought and heat. We’ve been around 30°C for days, even a week. What is serious, however, are not the temperatures: it is that this situation has lasted for 31 days. We are talking about it today because we are suffering the first consequences, while we have been experiencing a drought in Occitania since January. For two weeks now, the crops have entered a stage sensitive to the lack of water. We know that there will be an economic impact.
Which crops are most affected?
Wheat will be particularly vulnerable. It is during this period that the main components of yield – number of ears, number of grains per ear and grain size – are set up. The current drought will cause huge yield losses. Pasture will also be in trouble. There is already a 30% to 40% loss in the most affected areas: as much less food for the animals. The fodder stock for the summer will be reduced… Then, all the spring crops are threatened: beets and maize. The seeds will not be able to germinate for lack of water.
Are there any possible actions to limit this?
There are four areas of action to combine to reverse the trend. We can modify and work on the genetics. I am not talking about genetically modified organisms at all, but about the creation of new varieties resistant to lack of water by sexual reproduction. It takes ten years to implement this action. But in this period of time, climate change has had time to evolve… A second possibility would be to tap into existing species that are not grown in France, such as sorghum, and create new sectors. Then, we can protect the soil by limiting plowing, carrying out longer rotations, using intercrops. The ground should never be bare to protect it from climatic events.
The last point, and this is what I do every day, is digital water management. Farmers are told when to irrigate and when not to irrigate by modeling their plants and forecasting. It’s smart agriculture that allows you to conserve water and make the plant speak to give advice to the farmer.