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Analysis Weather

Extreme weather leaves trail of destruction across Europe

June 3, 2024 - Niels van der Boom

Many European countries are struggling with excessive rainfall. This leaves its mark on the crops. The damage already amounts to tens of millions, according to insurers. However, there are also countries where it is relatively dry. Boerenbusiness takes a tour of Europe.

With an average of 128 millimeters of rainfall, May was the wettest month ever recorded in the Netherlands according to the KNMI. This gave it the dubious honor of breaking the old record from 1983 (115 millimeters). The differences between regions are significant. The south fared significantly worse. In various places in Southeast Netherlands, 200 millimeters of rain or more fell, while in the northeast it was sometimes only 70 millimeters.

Pushing the limits
Between the showers, arable farmers managed to sow sugar beets and onions and plant potatoes, although this work is still not completed. Apart from the southeast and southwest of the country, it concerns the last 5% to 10% that is not yet in the ground. The limits of what is possible have been pushed again this year. It is currently difficult to say how much damage there is to the crops. Water damage occurs to some extent in almost all areas of the country. Livestock farmers were able to harvest their first cut of grass from mid-April to mid-May. The wetness posed some hindrance. Meanwhile, a lot of grass is already waiting on many plots to be harvested with a few days of good weather.

Extreme planting season in Belgium
In Belgium, about the same amount of rain fell in the past month. The KMI measured 125 millimeters compared to the normal 60 millimeters. It was also slightly warmer than average, like in the Netherlands. Especially in the east and northeast of Belgium, more rain fell than usual. The number of rainy days in particular made it difficult for farmers to do fieldwork.

As a result, just under half of all potatoes still need to be planted. This situation on June 1 is extreme and much worse than in 2023. Most of the potatoes were already in the ground around Ascension Day in that year. The late planting dates result in a delayed harvest or insufficient growing days. Seed potatoes still in storage are not getting any better. The same goes for the potatoes already in the ground that are suffering from water damage.

Improved, but wet
The situation in France is better than in the neighboring countries. An estimated 10% of the potato acreage still needs to be planted. With an average of 100 millimeters of rainfall, the country received slightly less water, but it is still 125% more than average. The coastal areas received relatively high rainfall and still have a fair amount of work to do. Work progressed smoothly in the east, but farmers there faced excessive rainfall at the end of May that caused crop damage.

Rainfall of 100 to 200 millimeters
It is mainly in the far south of Germany and neighboring countries Austria and Switzerland where extreme rainfall is causing significant damage. A devastating water flow is causing major problems. Thunderstorms, hail, and frost have all affected crops in the country. Vereinigte Hagel reported that with Pentecost alone, 15,000 hectares of orchards and crops were damaged by hail. By the end of the month, the insurer's tally for water damage stood at 42,000 hectares.

In the southern German states and across the border, very heavy showers occurred again last weekend. Due to high temperatures and inflow from the Mediterranean region, these showers contained a lot of water. Regionally, between 100 and 200 millimeters fell, leading to new floods, a derailed train, and even a fatality. Thousands of people have been evacuated. Some of this water flows towards the Netherlands through the rivers, where water levels are already high. It is expected that the provisional highest point will be reached on June 7. It seems that this will not have major consequences.

Poland dodged the bullet
A country that has so far fared relatively well is Poland. It was particularly dry in the south and center throughout the spring. Northern Poland, on the other hand, remained wet. At the end of May, meaningful rain fell for the first time, which was much needed. Apart from a cold spell at the end of April, spring started early and was warm. However, there is some damage to the crops due to frost. Compared to elsewhere in Europe, Polish arable farmers are in a good position.

The beginning of the meteorological summer provides little relief for most countries. The start of June in the Netherlands is relatively dry, but according to meteorologists, unsettled weather will persist in the first half of June. Hopefully, the ground can settle enough to plant the remainder of the crops, especially potatoes. Crops already in the ground have grown significantly, but the ridges still need to be formed. This is now being attempted with difficulty, as in most cases, it is still too wet.

Hands in the air
It is clear that farmers in Northwestern Europe are facing one of the most challenging years in recent history. The differences are enormous regionally. There are areas where sowing and planting could be done on time. Warm weather has ensured a good start. Rain showers are now clearly causing damage. Arable farmers are also concerned about high disease pressure. The wet weather complicates crop protection. In areas where substantial amounts of rainfall have occurred repeatedly - and where a considerable amount of work still needs to be done - arable farmers are at their wits' end. Corn can still be sown after June 1, but for other crops, it is already too late. Moreover, the harvest time is significantly delayed. This brings weather risks once again.

Niels van der Boom

Niels van der Boom is a senior market specialist in potatoes and other soft commodities at DCA Market Intelligence.
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