Cyprus Mail

Italian farmer battles frost, floods, heat and hail in epic year

file photo: heatwave across italy
FILE PHOTO: Andrea Ferrini, 52, a fruit farmer, works in his peach tree orchard, after his fields were hit by a hail storm

By Claudia Greco

Farmer Andrea Ferrini is on the frontline of climate change in Italy and it is hurting.

First his fruit and corn crops in northern Italy withered in a hard frost, then they were hit by torrential rains and record flooding, followed by an exceptional heatwave and finally hail storms.

“It has certainly been a disastrous year,” said Ferrini. “Making money from my farm is becoming difficult with this changing climate. Even planning for future years is becoming really challenging.”

Ferrini, 52, has owned a farm in the fertile Emilia-Romagna region since 2003. He has 15 hectares of vines and orchards, which produce kiwi and peaches, and also grows corn.

In a normal year he produces around 1,000 quintals (100,000 kg) of fruit and grapes, but this year he expects to harvest no more than 200-300 quintals.

“I am discouraged, but I am not giving up,” he said, bowing his head as pent up emotions swell.

His troubles in 2023 started with a rare frost in April that halved production. The following month, rains and floods swept the region, killing 15 people, causing billions of euros’ worth of damage and hitting agriculture particularly hard.

According to the Coldiretti agricultural association, more than 5,000 farms were left under water in the region, which accounts for a third of Italy’s fruit harvest, including Ferrini’s smallholding.

“The flood meant that the plants, which were in the midst of a vegetative recovery (from the cold), suffered water stress and went into crisis,” Ferrini said.

Then came the heat, with record temperatures registered in many areas of Italy this past week.

“We are being hit hard by the heatwave which is putting the plants under strain. This is also because temperatures at night are not falling below 24 Celsius (75 Fahrenheit), which does not allow plants to grow properly,” he said.

A severe hailstorm proved the final blow for much of his fragile crop.

“The climate is overheating. We have a very warm sea and every time there is a cold weather front, we have thunderstorms, strong winds, hailstorms and these are becoming more and more frequent in the Po Valley,” he said.

Scientists have long warned that climate change, caused by greenhouse gas emissions mainly from burning fossil fuels, will make heatwaves more frequent, severe and deadly.

Ferrini said farmers like him would have to adapt to survive, creating more resilient crops and developing new water management techniques to face up to the repeated heatwaves.

But he acknowledged it was an uphill battle.

“A farmer prepares all year round for the harvest and then sees his crop destroyed in just a few minutes or a few hours. That is a big, emotional blow,” he said.

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