Alcoy, Spain, the endless wait for rain

Ricardo Perry hasn’t seen a drop of rain in over 100 days. Since February 2 no cloud has flown over its grain fields. “Unheard of,” this 56-year-old farmer assures with regret. Head of a family farm of 55 hectares in Algae in the southeastSpainHe saw his production drop week by week as The skin of grief. Today, the entire harvest is definitely lost, and with it, 22 000 euro of income evaporated.

“In fifty years, I have never seen such dry land. Not even a drop of moisture. Nothing can grow,” he exclaims, sweeping away the cracked soil of his land. Usually, by the beginning of May, the ears of wheat, barley and oats should be green. “There, they measure only four centimeters instead of a meter. Due to lack of water their growth is completely stopped.

Drought is suffocating 80% of Spain’s irrigated farmland, according to the main agricultural association. © Mehdi Sebil, France 24

The area has become accustomed to the lack of rain. Ricardo Perri, like his parents and grandparents before him, adapted his work to this reality by following the principles of dryland agriculture – farming in arid zones, particularly practiced in Africa. The grains he grows require little water and the land is slightly sloping so it receives rain. “But it has its limitations, you always need the same minimum water for the crops to survive,” he stresses.

Around his fields, a few almond and olive trees – plants that need little blue gold – usually allow him a small extra income. “This year, they are also struggling. Their production is not fully finished yet, but rain must come soon at all costs,” he fretted, pointing to some fruits that had already fallen to the ground before they ripened.

Read more “The country is becoming a desert”: Spain faces its water limits

“It’s a Coup”

Unlike the majority of Spanish farmers in the south of the country, the 50-year-old drawn cannot compensate for the current drought with an irrigation system. “The nearest well is several kilometers away in the mountains and the only nearby stream has a low flow that does not allow the wild animals in the area to drink,” he explains.

In total, According to the Committee on Agriculture (COA).One of the major agricultural societies, 80 % of such non-irrigated cereal crops are now “asphyxiated” due to lack of rainfall or about 5 million hectares. “Many of my colleagues are ready to shut down,” the 50-year-old testifies sadly.

Losing his harvest especially due to drought seems like a very sad irony of fate for a fifty year old. Because in 2022 it is The reverse happened : “March and April rained heavily and I have already lost nearly 80 % of my production”, he recalled. The remnants of this episode were trenches being dug between each field. The trenches now seem completely useless.

Ricardo Perri walks through a drought-stricken wheat field in Alcoy, 100 kilometers south of Valencia, on May 9, 2023. © Mehdi Sebil, France 24

“To this, we must add the effects of the Covid-19 epidemic and the war in Ukraine, which led to an increase in production costs – fertilizers, diesel, phytosanitary products”, he continues. “This drought is really a death blow.”

On April 19, three farmers’ associations approached the Ministry of Agriculture seeking “extraordinary emergency assistance” to the affected farmers. Pending the government’s decision, only funding allocated by the European Union is keeping Ricardo Perri afloat.

Extreme weather events

In his work clothes, the farmer looks resigned. “Every year, We have to deal with increasingly extreme weather events“, he laments. “In forty years I have never lost a harvest due to rain or drought.”

“I’m not a scientist, and I don’t know how much it’s connected to climate change. What I do know is that we’re going from winter to summer almost unchanged. It could be zero degrees, and a week later, it’s almost 30 degrees. The whole system is weakened.”

However, Ricardo Perry assures that he does not want to give up. This time, he plans to embark on a major overhaul of his product. “Perhaps by planting other types of grain that survive more arid climates ? Perhaps by increasing olive production ?” he asks. It takes a long time to lay the tracks but it is allow, perhaps, to adapt to the increasingly desert landscape. According to climatologists, Spain – like the entire Mediterranean region – should be one of the regions of the world that will warm the fastest under the effects of climate change. According to UN, 75 % of the Spanish landmass may thus eventually become desert. Meanwhile, the farmer offers to hire his agricultural machinery or work in the fields for a low salary.

“My mother was born here, my parents worked here, and today, my son wants to take over my collection., Although very happy, you must be sure that he can earn a living”, concludes Ricardo Perry raised his eyes once more. Its weather app predicts a few drops of rain over the next few days. “It will already be.”

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