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Loire Valley: Intense European heatwave parches France’s ‘garden’

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    13 hours ago

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Image source, Sira Thierij

The Loire Valley is known as “the Garden of France”. But the garden is withering.

France’s worst drought since records began has turned lush vegetation into arid fields of brown crops, shrivelling under what is now the fourth heatwave of the year.

In Vincent Favreau’s vegetable farm, where he produces food for a hundred families in the area, the parched earth has stunted the growth of the cabbages. His potato plants are burnt out, producing just half the crop of a normal year.

“Either the vegetables will die of thirst, or they won’t develop enough during this crucial period of growth,” he said, sifting through the dry soil, which he hasn’t been able to water since restrictions came in two weeks ago.

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“With this heat and wind, we can’t compensate for what the sun is evaporating. I’ve never seen something like this in my twenty-two years here. If it doesn’t rain within two months, it’ll be a disaster.”

The world is already suffering from a food crisis from the war in Ukraine, a global breadbasket. Now, other major food producers, like France, are showing worrying signs.

Its corn production is forecast to drop by some 18% this year, with wheat and animal feed also falling.

Vincent and his crop

Image source, Sira Thierij

Vast fields of corn and sunflowers that should be lush and abundant at this time of year are instead dusty and lifeless, unable to be revived due to hosepipe bans. The crops are dying in soil that has long since dried out after the hottest July on record.

Denis Laizé, a corn farmer and president of the Chamber of Agriculture of the Maine et Loire department, picked his way through rows of bare corn crops, the handful of kernels unfertilised due to a lack of water.

“This field is useless in terms of a harvest,” he lamented.

“The Ukraine war has shown how countries must become more independent with their food production,” he said. “With the conflict and now climate change bringing farming to our knees there are big questions about how we’ll feed our world. Some areas – particularly parts of Africa – will have even more food shortages.”

Across two-thirds of France, a state of crisis has been declared by the government, with rainfall down by some 85%.

There are restrictions across the country on watering gardens and filling swimming pools. Around a hundred “communes” – villages or municipalities – were without tap water over last weekend.

Some parts of the Loire river have virtually dried up completely.

We stood in the middle of a section in the village of Saumur that is nothing more than sand banks and the odd puddle; locals say the water level has never been so low at this time of the year.

On the bank, beside a wall marked with lines showing how high the water levels would once reach, Clotilde Maneuvrier and her family were now picnicking instead, making the most of a new and worrying landscape.

A dry river bed in the Loire valley

Image source, Sira Thierij

“It’s very sad to see,” she said. “We never imagined the river would be as dry as this. It’s a huge surprise – and a wake-up call for us all to take decisions so this doesn’t become even worse.”

Foreign homeowners have long been drawn to the verdant villages of the Loire Valley.

Alan and Judith Mills from Lancashire have owned a house near Saumur for more than twenty years. Now their “place in the sun” has little relief from the baking August heat – and the forest fires that have plagued France over the summer.

“The firemen have been out, we’ve heard the sirens and seen the smoke,” Judith said. “In our garden, we have a well but we’re using it sparingly and we’re having showers rather than baths. We’re concerned about the environment – it’s the future for our children and grandchildren.”

This parched country is not forecast to see any significant rainfall soon.

As the climate warms and food supplies dry up, our planet is not weathering the storm.

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