This is the first post in a three-part series on the impact of this year’s drought on the farm.
Growing food depends on having water. Plants need water to germinate, grow, and produce. Different plants need more or less water, but all plants need some amount of water.
We are in a Mediterranean climate. We get most of our rain during the wet and cool winters typical of this area. Summers are hot and dry.
Crop production cycles are closely related to the typical rain patterns. We plant grains like wheat, barley, and oats in the fall and as the plants grow throughout the winter, they get rained on. By the time summer begins and rain is very unlikely, those crops dry out in time for harvest.
Spring-planted crops benefit from the soil moisture from the fall and winter rains and some early spring rain before the season dries out.
This year, it hardly rained in the fall and winter. The crops needed about 25 mm of rain to be able to make it, and we got fewer than 10 mm. It has been a very dry year.
The immediate impact of this drought on the crops has been three-fold.
All of the fall-planted grains have very low yields. We just finished harvesting the last of our fall-planted crops last week, and some of the yields are a fifth of what they should be.
All of our winter-planted crops (e.g., chick peas, lentils, and golden flax) are still in the field and suffering. The plants did not develop well, and I anticipate low yields for those crops as well.
Another impact has been straight-up crop failure.
For the crops planted in late winter like alfalfa and sunflowers, we will not harvest anything from the fields. There was very low germination and there is basically no production in the field.
Crops Not Planted
By March, it was clear that the situation was getting more difficult by the day. And so I decided not to plant some of our spring-planted crops like millet.
Those types of decisions are hard to make because field preparation begins several months before planting. We had prepared the field for planting, hoping that it would rain just enough.
But the rain did not come, and so I decided not to plant.
We pay a lot of money to be a part of the Italian equivalent of the irrigation districts in the Western U.S. There is a public entity that manages the irrigation water infrastructure locally, and we have access to that infrastructure on all of the crop fields.
But we don’t have the field irrigation infrastructure needed to irrigate, so this year we borrowed a pump. We focused the water on a few key crops, but the soil was so dry that after irrigating, the soil would create a crust and make it difficult for plants to germinate and grow.
The costs of managing the pump and running it were also very high, so the pump was not an effective solution.
What about the rice?
The irrigation infrastructure that we do have is for flooding rice fields. Rice fields are lower than other crop fields and are flat instead of curved. This makes it easy to open a hydrant and flood the field. No pump is needed.
Because we have the capacity to flood the rice fields, our rice has not yet been impacted by the drought. Given that there is less water to go around, we only planted half of our normal rice acreage.
Drought in the News
We are in one of the worst-hit areas for the drought, and we’ve gotten some news coverage. Check out a recent clip from the Italian news:
Publicado por Tenuta San Carlo em Sábado, 24 de junho de 2017
The next two blog posts in the series will be about the impacts on our livestock production and the overall economic impacts and environmental considerations.
— Ariane Lotti