Record heat leads to severe drought conditions in UK, Europe

Produce Business staff, wire reports

As another heatwave hits the European continent, drought conditions and water scarcity in several regions are reducing crop yield and affecting energy production.

A staggering portion of Europe is currently exposed to warning (44% of EU+UK) and alert (9% of EU+UK) drought levels, associated with soil moisture deficit in combination with vegetation stress, according to a report by the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre.

Early heatwaves in May and June and a persistent lack of precipitation have caused dry conditions which have exacerbated drought and caused water and heat stress for crops. 

But in the UK, at least one retailer is reporting positive results of all the heat. Tesco said the warm temperatures have led to a bumper crop of cherries that they will be discounting to customers at £5 per kilo.

“The fantastic UK weather in the last week has brought on the cherries faster than expected with many growers seeing production about 10-15 per cent higher than normal for this time of year,” Tesco Stone Fruit Buying Manager Maria Katsipi said. “The quality of the fruit this year is first class with soft flesh, ripe with juice and an unrivalled sweetness and taste.”

Elsewhere, however, the lack of precipitation means soil water content has been reduced significantly, making it harder for plants to extract water from the soil. This has led to widespread stress on vegetation, namely in the Italian lowlands, in southern, central and western France, in central Germany and eastern Hungary, Portugal and in northern Spain.

In several European countries, crop yield and crop yield potential for summer, winter and spring crops has therefore been reduced.

In Italy, the Po River basin is facing the highest level of drought severity and a drought emergency has been declared in five Italian regions. Insufficient water availability has led to water use restrictions across the country’s municipalities and similar measures have also been put into place in neighboring France in 68 départments.

Furthermore, withstored water volumes are also depleted and in multiple countries, river discharge has been severely affected. As a result, there have been impacts on the energy sector for both hydropower generation and cooling systems of other power plants. 

In Spain, volumes of water stored in reservoirs are currently 31% lower than the 10-year average. In Portugal, hydroelectric energy stored in water reservoirs is at half the average of the previous seven years. What’s more, both countries are experiencing conditions that are extremely favorable for wildfires.

Additionally, energy production from run-of-river plants until the beginning of July was lower than the 2015-2021 average for many European countries, notably in Italy (-5039 GWh compared to the average), France (-3930 GWh) and Portugal (-2244 GWh). 

The same decrease is true for hydropower reservoir levels, affecting countries such as Norway, Spain, Romania, Montenegro and Bulgaria, among others. 

Consequently, hydroelectric and thermoelectric power production operations across countries are being reduced or even suspended. 

The unfavorable forecasts for the coming months consist of severely drier than normal conditions in large areas of Europe, which, if confirmed, will exacerbate drought severity and the impacts on agriculture, energy and water supply. 



The Latest from PBUK

Subscribe to PBUK!

Get regular produce industry insights, sign up for our email newsletter below.