The continuing northern hemisphere heat wave is quickly becoming a food security issue, with European crop production estimates falling, commodity prices rising, and pigs in Quebec dying during the province’s hottest July in 97 years.
“Searing heat has devastated wheat fields across northern Europe, while a combination of dry conditions and extreme rain in the Black Sea have hit output estimates, with prices soaring on fears of further crop damage,” Reuters reports. “Evidence of serious harm to crops is growing as harvesting heads north in Germany, the European Union’s second largest wheat producer, and in Scandinavia, prompting further cuts to estimates for the 28-member bloc.”
In late July, consultants at Strategie Grains reduced their forecast for the soft wheat harvest in the EU, the world’s biggest wheat producer, below 130 million tonnes, the lowest in six years, and the numbers could go lower still. “The situation is catastrophic in northern Europe,” said head analyst Andrée Defois, with Sweden’s crop down 40%, Britain preparing for a five-year low, and Germany anticipating a 25% drop after experiencing the highest May temperatures since 1881. Australian wheat farmers are also contending with severe drought.
“It’s far worse than we expected,” said Agritel analyst Sebastien Poncelet. “It has been months since it has rained in some parts of northern Europe, and in Germany there should be no rain for at least another two weeks.”
The Black Sea region has seen dry weather alternating with pouring rain, so that crop quality may be a bigger problem than quantity. “It is basically clear that the harvest will not reach the last year’s record, but it is still going to be relatively large,” Russian Grain Union head Arkady Zlochevsky told Reuters. “The problem is mostly related to the quality.”
Overall, the crisis has had an impact on global wheat prices: they’re up 20% over the last three weeks in Europe and the U.S.
In Lévis, Quebec, meanwhile, the Sanimax recycling plant is reporting a 47% increase in the volume of animal carcasses it’s receiving for its byproduct reclamation service. “It’s a historic crisis,” said Operations Director Yannick Cadotte. “It’s unheard of.” Farmer Louis-Phillipe Roy, president of Éleveurs de porcs des Deux Rives, said there has been “a lot of mortality” this summer among pigs in the province’s Saint-Michel-de-Bellechasse in the Chaudière-Appalaches regions.
Pigs don’t sweat very much, CBC/Radio-Canada explains, and they have trouble regulating their body temperature in response to high heat and humidity. The problem is particularly acute in extended heat waves where there is little respite at night.
“It’s an extreme situation,” said Beauce pork farmer René Roy, who said he’d lost 10 animals—out of a herd of about 2,000—this summer. “As a producer, I had not gone through a heat wave of such intensity,” he told Radio-Canada. “It is that even at night it is very hot. Our losses have economic effects, but also on the stress of producers.”