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Planet Ark World Environment News Little Rain For Europe's Farmers Before June

Date: 18-May-11
Country: BRITAIN
Author: Daniel Fineren

Little Rain For Europe's Farmers Before June Photo: Reuters/Regis Duvignau
Cracks are seen in dry earth in a wheat field in Niort, southwestern France, May 13, 2011.
Photo: Reuters/Regis Duvignau

Drought in much of Europe looks set to continue with little relief for parched farmland until June at the earliest, forecasters say.

Parts of central Europe saw less than 40 percent of their long-term average rainfall from February to April, with even the wettest seeing less than 80 percent of the mean for 1951-2000, according to the Global Precipitation Climatology Center.

At the start of May, some weather watchers saw some rainfall relief by the end of the month from the long, dry spell that has desiccated large parts of Europe since January.

Patchy rain has moistened bits of northern Britain, France and Germany over the last few days, raising Rhine river levels and allowing some increase in trade.

But dry high pressure systems have not made way for wetter lows as had been expected, preventing sustained rain from soaking dusty fields in the three biggest wheat growing areas of the EU, and prompting France to impose limits on water use on fears the drought will continue

"Most of the really dry conditions are expected to be across southern France and Germany, with near or slightly below normal rainfall in northern sections, where most of the wheat is," Todd Crawford, chief meteorologist at U.S.-based Weather Services International, said Monday.

"So, no drought-busting rains expected for most of the rest of May."

Telvent DTN, a U.S.-based energy and commodities weather forecaster, said it expected only a few scattered light rain showers in the grain producing heartland of the EU, which it warned would not compensate for months of dry weather.

"More rain is needed to support developing wheat in much of France and Germany," Telvent said Monday.

Benchmark European wheat futures have risen about 11.5 percent since May 5, bouncing back from a cross-commodity sell off in late April on the dry weather.

The stubborn high pressure systems that tend to bring dry weather to continental Europe show little sign of being pushed aside by typically-wetter lows, except in northern areas where grain production is low, according to the European Center for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF - see link below).

"Looking at southern Britain as the main grain area I think rainfall amounts are really uncertain," a spokesman for Britain's official forecaster, the Met Office, said.

"There is more rain in the forecast. However, I think the bulk of that rain is likely to be in more northern parts... It remains stubbornly dry in eastern and south eastern parts."

The Met Office sees potential thunder storms in southern England next week but because the earth is so dry, heavy rain could race off the rock-hard agricultural land into rivers.

RUSSIA RAINS

The unusually dry spring in top EU wheat producers France, Germany and Britain has revived drought fears after a dry summer in 2010 ravaged Russian and Ukrainian wheat harvests -- driving a surge in food prices around the world.

Recent rains should help cereal growth in western Ukraine and southern Russia. But drier weather over the next 7-10 days still appears likely for crop areas from the eastern Central and Volga regions into the Newlands region, Telvent said in its World Commodities Weather Spotlight.

"This favors spring wheat planting but will reduce soil moisture for winter crops," the outlook said.

"This is the same area that was hit by severe drought last season and thus this drying trend will bear watching."

ENERGY MARKET PRESSURE

Unless low pressure in the North Atlantic can push aside high pressure systems, the drought could also put more bullish pressure on European energy markets.

"Recent high temperatures and low rainfall across Europe have resulted in low hydro-electric reservoir levels across the continent," Mark Lewis, director of commodities research at Deutsche Bank said.

Switzerland's reservoir levels dropped again in early May, further delaying the usual spring turning point when levels start going up as snow melts.

Swiss reserves are usually a key summer source of clean electricity. But with German nuclear power production hobbled by Berlin's reaction to Japan's nuclear crisis, a continued drought could also drive up EU carbon emissions prices as generators are forced to burn more coal.

A long heatwave forced several German and French nuclear plants to shut in summer 2003 because of river water cooling problems, and while temperatures so far have not been as extreme, low river levels are a growing concern.

Spain, which also relies on hydro power, has seen its reserves shrink about 3 percent from a year ago but rainfall on western parts of the Iberian Peninsula has not been as badly affected.

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