Tuscany’s Grain Production Suffers from Drought & the Conflict in Ukraine

Attempts to alleviate the shortage of wheat and flour caused by conflict in Ukraine have fallen short as Tuscany experiences one of the worst droughts on record. 

Almost no rainfall in February and March, crucial months for harvest, combined with record-breaking heat in May has compromised 30% of the regional agricultural production, said Fabrizio Filippi, president of Coldiretti Toscana, an Italian farm lobby. 

Tuscan governor Eugenio Giani declared a regional state of emergency on July 6 because of the drought, and emphasized the importance of taking immediate action.  The areas where the lack of rainfall has caused the most problems are the Livorno coast, Maremma and Orbetello.

The announcement comes at the same time that the Ministry of Health declared a red alert for several major cities in Italy experiencing heat waves. Florence currently falls under Level 3, which indicates emergency conditions of heat with possible negative effects on the health of not only at-risk subgroups, but active and healthy people as well. 

The percentage of the planet affected by drought has more than doubled in the last 40 years, affecting more people worldwide than any other natural hazard, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations. Agriculture bears much of the impact, often halting and reversing gains in water availability, production, food security and rural livelihoods.

Tuscany’s grain production shortage also occurs at a critical moment in which there is a need to produce more food and raw materials in order to regain possession of our food sovereignty and decrease dependence on countries abroad, Filippi said.

Less than two weeks ago, Tuscany was given the green light to plant 148,000 acres of wheat and other grains to alleviate the drop in imports of grain and flour occurring because of the conflict in Ukraine. 

The Russian Federation and Ukraine are net exporters of agricultural products, and both play leading supply roles in global markets, according to the FAO’s report. The preliminary assessment suggests that, as a result of the conflict, between 20-30% of the areas under winter cereals, maize and sunflower seed in Ukraine will either not be planted or remain unharvested during the 2022-23 season, with the yields of these crops also likely to be adversely affected.

Because the Minister of Food and Forestry Policies Stefano Patuanelli signed a decree to approve the grain acreage of over 494,000 acres nationwide, the new farmland allocated for Tuscany alone can yield 165,000 tons of grain.

However, the decrease in world grain production due to the conflict and the drought have brought Italy into a raw material deficit, with the nation producing 36% of soft wheat needed for bread and biscuits and 62% of durum wheat for pasta. The shortage has also burdened grain and flour companies as production costs skyrocket. 

On June 28, Coldiretti Toscana asked Stefania Saccardi, vice president of the Tuscany Region and councilor for agriculture and food to activate the procedure for emergency irrigation used by farms to save crops by allocating additional fuel at a cheaper rate.

If the damage caused by the drought exceeds 30% of the gross saleable production, it will be possible to proclaim a “state of exceptional atmospheric adversity,” according to the Ministry of Agricultural, Food and Forestry Policies.

Giani’s declaration also called for a law that simplifies the construction of reservoirs and other intervention tactics to minimize the effects of the drought.

Filippi had previously called the increase in acreage an important first step in reducing Tuscany’s dependence on various grains abroad. Now, Coldiretti Toscana is pushing for a stronger acceleration in implementing measures to combat climate change.

To read more in Italian, visit Florence’s La Repubblica news site.  (natasha sokoloff)