Drought in Poland

The problem of drought is, next to the war in Ukraine, a serious threat to the global food and agricultural market. There is probably no place on earth that has not been hit by drought. Nevertheless, it is also a problem to reach the general public awareness, especially in Poland, which has been in a state of permanent drought crisis for several years.

Soil moisture indicator, layer 0-7 cm / May 2022 / Source: IMGW

Unfortunately, such severe water shortages reduce the yield potential in almost all EU countries. As a result, wheat futures contracts in world markets are rising. The new harvest is already valued at 400 EUR per ton.

A dry and warm summer is expected in Poland and the entire Central and Eastern Europe, which will favor the development of the hydrological low flow, especially in the west of the country, and storms will not allow for the reconstruction of water resources.

According to the IMGW (Institute of Meteorology and Water Management), the moisture content in the surface layer of soil in 4 voivodeships: Lubuskie (West), Wielkopolskie (West-Central), Kujawsko-Pomorskie (North) and Łódzkie (Central) reached 30%, i.e. a level corresponding to soil drought.

Due to the lack of water, some of the yields have already been reduced. Cold March and problems with spreading fertilizers also contributed to this. Although the vegetation started earlier, it was impossible to enter the field then. And when it did, the moisture was gone, so the fertilizers didn't dissolve. The nitrogen evaporated before the plants could take it up. In addition, sandstorms occurred in some parts of the country, blowing away or damaging young plants, opening the way for pathogens.

Moreover, in Poland, large areas were dried up for many years due to incorrect melioration. Over the years there has been high evaporation, high temperature, no rainfall, low soil moisture. Farmers have a problem.

"We have a drought and even though it rained a little, it is not enough for good plant vegetation. This can be seen in the fields where the soil is worse and does not hold water. It can be assumed that the yields will be lower this year" - emphasizes Agnieszka Sołtysiak from the Warmia and Mazury (North Poland) Agricultural Advisory Center.

In part of the country, there has been no more rainfall for several weeks. Actually, the water deficit in the fields is enormous - in many places in Poland, moisture is only below 1 m deep. Sown areas of spring cereals, beets or maize had a problem with growth.
"The ground is cracked, you can see that the plants are paler, and in addition, many farmers did not fertilize their fields at all this year, because not everyone could afford it. Many farmers changed their crops to less capital-intensive ones" - a farmer from the south of Poland.

The Polish government has already announced several ideas to improve the situation. Farmers are worried about the situation because the call for applications for co-financing for the losses incurred as a result of the drought in 2021 has not yet started.

On the other hand, such a situation causes farmers to look for new solutions. Progressive warming and recently occurring soil droughts more and more often encourage the cultivation of plants that are well adapted to such conditions, hence the growing popularity of sunflower seeds. Sunflower is resistant to drought, thanks to its thick skin that covers the stems and leaves. It protects the plant against the consequences of a deficiency in precipitation, and even against drought. Sunflower has been successfully cultivated in Ukraine, and due to the war, the production of this raw material has decreased, so there is a gap in agricultural production, which many will try to fill.

Fires more frequent

Deficiency in precipitation and high air temperatures as well as decreasing water resources also increase the risk of fire. River states in most of the country are low to medium levels. The lack of significant rainfall also contributes to a high fire risk in forests. In the first half of May, the highest level of fire risk was indicated in most voivodships.
The State Fire Service in Poland shows that from the beginning of the year there have been over 35 000 grass, meadow and wasteland fires. 10 people lost their lives and 87 were injured as a result of these fires. This is more than three times more grass fires than in the same period last year.

In the last 70 years, the temperature in Poland has increased by an average of 1.7 degrees Celsius. According to Grzegorz Walijewski from the Center for Hydrological Protection of the Country of IMGW in Poland is today like it was in northern Italy 70 years ago.

Food prices are increasing

Food production costs are rising. This is influenced, among others, by more expensive fuels, increase in energy, gas and fertilizer prices. Now food producers have another cause for concern. If the current weather trend continues, this year's yields will be much weaker due to persistent drought. The drought is observed in Poland and among some of the world's major food producers and exporters (including Europe, the USA and Brazil). It will additionally increase the prices of grains and oilseeds, and, consequently, the prices of feed and meat. In turn, locally it will support the increase in the prices of fruit and vegetables.

"Lower production in Poland, due to the drought, will result in price increases, especially in the area of fruit and vegetables" - predicts Mariusz Dziwulski, expert of the PKO BP bank. Rising food prices are a fact, and consumers will feel them most strongly this fall.

"The level of food prices year on year, in relation to the previous year, in relation to the previous season, I think that it may be 25-30% if nothing changes in the East, because it is extremely important" – Henryk Kowalczyk, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development in Poland.

Although, according to the Polish Federation of Food Producers, stabilization of food prices may not take place until the second half of 2023, provided that the war in Ukraine ends and normal world trade begins. Despite the difficult situation in agriculture, the forecasted lower yields and the growing food problems on all sides, Europe will not run short in the near future.

"There will be no shortage of wheat for flour or rapeseed for oil. The prices, however, will be much higher. Due to the war, price increases in global markets are visible. Russia and Ukraine are the main export countries for grains such as wheat, corn and sunflower. At the moment, you don't see too much of a shortage, but let's remember that we are before harvest. In addition, many exporters who previously reported increases in exports are struggling with drought and are revising their forecasts downward. It will definitely be more expensive. Production in Poland will be lower. However, despite the rising prices of fertilizers and limited fertilization, and the already present drought, there is no need to fear shortages of basic products" - says a farmer from northern Poland.

There are various small retention programs in Poland - you can dig a pond and you don't need a permit. You can get various types of funding for devices or rainwater tanks. On the other hand, the problem is the relatively small scale of activities and the lack of awareness of the benefits of such activities.

The problem of drought caused, among others, by climate change, remains a problem in Poland, but its scale must be minimized. Polish experts call more and more loudly to educate the society - not only the farmers themselves, but every citizen, starting with children to show that climate change is here, drought is here. We all have to act and mitigate and adapt.