A Promise of Spring? Frost and drought causing damages in Hungarian agriculture

Plant cultivation is by nature at the mercy of the elements and with the changing climate, spring weather is becoming more and more unpredictable and mercurial in Hungary. Volatile changes in temperature and precipitation affect agriculture in the busy spring season in various ways.

A flowering tree in the morning sunshine
Beeld: ©Lívia Kósa
After a fortnight of warm spring weather, the mornings are chilly again in the middle of April

Freezing nights, cold mornings

With spring came fickle and unpredictable weather. In the end of March and beginning of April, freezing cold returned and night frost caused substantial damages to agriculture, primarily to permanent crops.

Fruit orchards are especially vulnerable to spring frosts as fruit trees start blossoming in this period. This year too, yields will be affected all over the sector. After the late March frosts and a couple of weeks of warm weather, another weather front hit the country over the Easter weekend, with record-breakingly cold nights (Temperatures reaching as low as -8.9°C in the Great Plains)

A digital thermometer placed on a fruit tree in an orchard shows the temperature in the morning, -5.6°C
Beeld: ©Mila Mirkovic
The degree of cold damage greatly varies, but generally, all orchards were hit by the freezing weather.

Damages vary depending on region and variety. Generally, early bloomers suffered the most. Damage to flowers can be as high as 70-100% in certain regions – Hardest hit were apricot and peach orchards. In the case of cherry and pear, fruit and bud damage reached over 50%, while apple, plum, sour cherry and walnut orchards took a softer blow, damages averaging between 20-50% in most places.

The damage to permanent crop yields is not yet certain. According to Hungarian fruit and vegetable producers alliance FruitVeB, the coming four to six weeks will be crucial and the first prognosis on expected yields will be available by the end of May. 

A fresh plantation is seen in the morning sunlight.
Beeld: ©Lívia Kósa
Spring rains can't come soon enough to the fields.

Drought in the plains

With April started a dry period, which is hurting perishable crop cultivation. While the Easter front announced its arrival with thunderstorms, spring rains haven’t come to the fields.

The spring sowing period is here and ground water levels are alarmingly receding. According to analyses, 50-60 mm of moisture has already evaporated from the terrain, making the need for spring rains more and more severe. The situation is worsened by the fact that there had been very little snowing over the winter, which means that there isn’t much snow meltwater in the ground either which could now sustain soil moisture levels.

Fortunately, the autumn sowings wintered over without frost damages, however, a continued drought could decrease these crop yields as well.

A bee is seen flying over a branch laden with blossoming flowers
Beeld: ©Amin Eisam Eldeen
Flowering will continue for another 4 to 6 weeks in Hungary.

Last spring, producers faced the same problem. Because of the spring drought, many delayed sowing until June, which led to underwhelming fall harvests – which is why this year, the only option for farmers is to start sowing and fertilizing as soon as possible and hope for rains to come.

And if the rains won’t arrive? Farmers might have to fall back on the Hungarian system of damage compensation due to weather extremes, similar as in 2019. Recently, HUF 14 billion (€39.8 million) was paid to 6,855 recipients with ca. 300,000 hectares of land in compensation for weather damage in 2019. (More info on weather damage compensation here.)

Sources: agrarszektor.hu, magyarmezogazdasag.hu