Some of you may have already heard that many parts of Europe and France have been plunged in a heatwave and drought. Unfortunately, our little area of France has been one of the worst effected!
When it all started:
Whilst winter 2017/2018 was the wettest since records began, the rain dispersed in early June 2018, and well… Never really returned. Summer 2018 was already fairly catastrophic for farmers, the heat and lack of rain quickly turning green lush fields to dead brown grass by August. Farmers of the region completely running out of grass in early September. Whilst running out of grass for August is fairly common, Autumn rain is able to rally a second grass growth, but not that year. Luckily, the previous wet spring had resulted in good forage and hay harvests so farmers were just about able to make up the grass deficit to the winter. But winter came.. and the rain still did not.
What happened next:
Winter came and went with minimal rain, followed by an equally dry spring. Spring 2019 saw a greatly reduced forage and hay harvest with some farmers being 50% down. Worst still, the region was starting to run low on water… Something needed to change fast to get the situation back under control.
And we thought things couldn’t get any worse:
End of June is when the first heatwave really hit. Record temperatures of over 40 degrees destroyed all chance of summer grass growth. Lakes and rivers started to run dry and the region was officially declared a crisis zone. Water use was banned for everything other than human consumption, firefighting and livestock. We waved goodbye to all our garden produce and plants, as watering was also banned. But nature wasn’t done with us just yet. After a few weeks, temperatures came again back up to 40 degrees, breaking new records once again. Two days of rain did finally bring the temperatures back down and provided a little jump start to get the grass growing again. But of course it was nowhere near what was needed to bring back up water levels. Local farmers had started using their winter forage stock in July. None had though it possible that things would be worse than last year.
Where we are now:
Well, the rain disappeared once again after those two days. Temperatures have now once again gone back up to 35+, with no rain on the horizon. Any chance of grass growth this side of 2020 now pretty much gone. Famers are having to deal with providing 50% more forage and hay with 50% less. Our commune is now getting water brought in via trucks from other French regions. Many rivers and lakes have completely disappeared, a catastrophe for local wildlife. Gueret, the capital of the region, has only 10 days left of drinking water as I write this. Plans are in place to pump from their tourist lake, but this would only provide another 100 days of water at most. The water companies are trying everything they can to discover new and old abandoned water sources. The water table is at its lowest ever recorded as is soil moisture content.
How the farm is managing:
We are doing ok, and so are all the animals. Whilst, we could not predict this level of calamity, our farm always had climate change at the core of all our plans. For example, our refusal to cut back trees from our fields has meant that our cows always have access to large shady areas to keep cool. Our purposely small herd size also means that even as our river runs dry, it was viable to provide water to the cows from the mains. Careful grazing strategies have also meant we have only just started to need to provide hay. Working in these conditions has been rather challenging. By midday, the tractors and equipment becoming simply too hot to even touch. In these temperatures, even taking a few steps becomes a real task. You can see a YouTube video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=El_mwQ96Lgo&t=1s to see how we have been caring for the animals in the heat. We have been able to keep them very comfortable even with the heat.
Having grown up in this region nearly 30 years ago, I never though I would see the day when it would run out of water, after over 15 months of drought now. One of the wettest regions of France I remember summer temperatures of 25, and returning to school in the cold pouring rain. The French weather service has stated these events have been greatly driven by climate change, and may become the new norm. Whilst our agricultural model should make us fairly resilient, There is a limit to what we can take, and speaking to more conventional farmers, they will not be able to survive another year like this, if they can even make it to the end of this one.
River is gone.
Finding shade were possible.