Portugal Farm Income seen Down 35 Percent - Agricultural Ministry
Author: Ian Simpson
Among forecast drops as fields wither, winter hard wheat production is expected to fall 90 percent this year from 2004 and soft wheat output is seen off more than 60 percent, he told Reuters.
"We estimate that the drop in income, maximum, will be 35 percent," Silva said. The figure includes aid to farmers.
Agriculture in Portugal is at one of the highest levels in the old 15-nation European Union (EU) in terms of economic output. Total production was 5.8 billion euros last year, according to ministry figures.
Ninety-seven percent of Portugal was in severe or extreme drought at the end of June, the worst dry spell since at least 1945. Spain and France also are suffering from intense drought.
The European Commission estimated on Friday that EU cereals production would fall by at least 28 million tonnes, or about 10 percent, because of the lack of rain.
The Confederation of Portuguese Farmers has forecast drought losses at a billion euros. Silva said the Socialist government could not make an estimate until September when harvests of such products as olives, corn and grapes were done.
"We're always talking about grains but the drought affects all the other" crops, he said.
LEAVE THE FARM
Silva, a 51-year-old economist, said the drought likely would speed up the abandonment of farms in the rolling Alentejo agricultural region, where pastures have been turned into fields of stone and reservoirs into dust bowls.
Spanish farmers eager to use water from the Guadiana River's Alqueva reservoir, billed as Europe's biggest, will be major buyers of Portuguese land, he said.
"With the drop in income this year, there will be a trend to sell. (Abandonment) is going to speed up," he said.
Portugal's priority is to build reservoirs and dams for water storage, he said, adding that most planned projects have never been built.
The need was urgent since drought is a long-term problem, with dry spells lasting for two or three years, he said.
"We have more and more periodic droughts. It used to be it was once every 20 years, now it's less than 10 years and when it happens it's not just one year," he said.
The dry spell has helped fuel forest fires that have burned about 30,000 hectares (75,000 acres) this year through July 10. The figure is about a third above the average for the previous five-year period.
Silva, whose ministry also oversees forests, had no estimate for commercial losses from the fires.
The drought has cut hydroelectric power output by 57 percent and prompted the government to move forward hunting seasons. Cork producers also have slashed their output estimate for this year by 13 percent.