Hungary Newsflash Week 36

EU subsidy news, the future of farming in the face of climate change, irrigation infrastructure boost, a tick invasion, and a new tech for aquatic ecosystem-mapping - The week in Hungarian agriculture

A dehydrated rose in sunshine
Beeld: ©Aleksey Oryshchenko
Summers are getting hotter and drier in Hungary - As the climate continues to change, farmers will have to deal with a changed, hotter, more arid environment in the region. Some crops will not be viable anymore, others will need extensive irrigation to survive.

Hungarian agriculture expected to be well-funded by EU grants in this cycle

State Secretary Sándor Farkas of the Ministry of Agriculture stated to the press recently that the government is “dedicated to provide as many subsidy opportunities for the [agriculture] sector as possible.”

In the little over six years until the end of the EU financial cycle, Hungary will have access to a funding of around €121.221 million for rural development. Most of these funds will be allocated for agricultural grants and subsidies.

From the current round of calls for applications, one example is a grant scheme for facility modernization in the animal husbandry sector. In this program, more than 600 applicants have been recently awarded a total €828.8 million in grants. The precision agriculture subsidy scheme announced in the summer is still underway, meanwhile, the regular horticultural subsidy ceilings for individual applicants have been doubled to €142.9 million.

A glimpse into the future of farming

A recent assessment of the effects of climate change on agriculture in Hungary by the magazine HVG paints a dire picture of what the future has in store for farmers.

“The Carpathian Basin, due to its geographical conditions, is an environment that is very sensitive to climatic shifts and in the coming years, the region will become progressively drier” – said Lili Balogh, coordinator of the research group Agroecological Network, to the news site.

According to Ms. Balogh, these changes will cause problems for the large-scale cultivation of most crops. Although there are resistant varieties, the currently used ones in the case of sunflowers and maize are especially water-intensive – And drops in precipitation can even destroy the harvest completely. Other water-intensive crops like sugar beet, potatoes or alfalfa will not be viable in open-field cultivation without extensive irrigation, which will increase costs and in turn, reduce profits.

Highly domesticated varieties and monocultures will be particularly hit hard because currently used hybrid varieties are not adaptive, requiring ever more fertilizer and plant protection agents to maintain reasonable yield levels.

On the flip side, if farmers will be able to establish and maintain the required irrigation infrastructure needed in a warmer, drier Hungary, then for fruit and vegetable farming, all other things being equal, global warming might just be a net positive development.

That’s a big caveat however, because there is no guarantee that all other things will, in fact, politely stay equal. One big “if” in this equation is the maintenance of soil nutrient levels. The other is the survival of pollinator populations.

That is another area where climate change will (both directly and indirectly), will hit nature harder than a body-slamming linebacker. Hungary’s bee population is already on its back foot, and if farmers start cranking up the plant protection sprays, that will devastate the already struggling pollinator populations.

Interestingly, the winners of the age of climate change might just be herb and spice farmers, because due to a large variety of species to choose from, these smaller sectors are very adaptable.

Lake Balaton during sunset.
Beeld: ©poszarobert
Lake Balaton and its water systems are home to a diverse aquatic ecosystem - One that might soon be more accurately mapped and measured with a new tech developed by the Balaton Limnological Research Institute.

Plans for boosting the irrigation infrastructure

While winter cereals have produced excellent harvest yields, the weather in the hot summer period led to considerable damages in the corn harvest. (We have reported on this in our previous Newsflash.)

Stakeholders and ministry officials now agree that irrigation development is now paramount to the protection of the country’s field crops. For this reason, a budget of €48.6 million has been earmarked for the support of farmers’ irrigation communities. The policy is planned to boost the size of Hungary’s irrigated farmland area. While in the spring of 2021, around 90 thousand hectares of land had been under regular irrigation, the policy plan’s target figure for next year is 120-130 thousand hectares while the long-term goal is the irrigation of 300-350 thousand ha of land.

(For more information on the general outlook of irrigation development in Hungary, see our detailed overview from last year.)

These insects are getting people really ticked off

A recent survey (with a sample size of 3000), shows that ticks and tick bites are becoming more and more of an issue for both humans and household pets in Hungary.

In recent years, due to climate change, environmental conditions have been more and more favorable for a serious proliferation of these parasitic insects. Winters are now warmer, which means that the “tick season” could begin much earlier in the spring. The results of the survey backed up this projection. 53.8% of people are experiencing more tick bites than five years ago, 64.3% reported that there have been instances of tick bites in their families in the past years, and 65.2% reported that their pets have been suffering from tick bites.

The number of tick bites per year varies between pets and humans. In the case of people, responders reported having identified 1-3 tick bites in the past year, in the case of dogs and cats, 5-10 tick bites were the average. 12.2% of the responders have also reported that they have been infected with communicable diseases.

Climate change will continue to present inherent epidemiological risks for humanity in this century. As the temperate belt is getting warmer, the decreasing frequency of cold winters and increasing ambient temperatures will continue to create more favorable environments for various insect species, including both endemic and invasive parasites – And we can imagine what happens when tropical mosquitos, dragged into colder countries onboard passenger planes periodically, but routinely just dying in the colder months, are finally able to winter over in Europe.

Novel technology for the mapping of aquatic ecosystems

Researchers at the Balaton Limnological Research Institute, located at Lake Balaton, have developed a brand new method for the analysis of aquatic ecosystems. The new tech can identify the species present in the ecosystem and the sizes of their populations from a few liters of water. The new method is based on identifying DNA traces in trapped organic fragments shed by living organisms (scales, mucus, hair, feces, etc).

István Czeglédi, a researcher and member of the project team, told the press that in the preliminary experiments (in which they were aided by a French laboratory), the new tech has already been able to quickly identify more species, and make a more exact measurement of populations than with traditional methods that involve complicated machinery and fishing nets. According to the researcher, with proper founding, the technology will be ready in a few years to research and map the population composition of the water systems of Lake Balaton.