In Saint-Dizier, farmers are managing drought…for now

AGRICULTURE. The drought raging for many weeks is affecting production as well as livestock. Farmers are adapting, some are converting their crops. According to them, the situation is not yet worrisome, but everything will depend on the weather in the coming weeks.

In Villiers-en-Lieu, the sunflowers are sulking. Admittedly they are reaching maturity, but they are mostly drought tolerant. It hadn’t rained like a downpour for several weeks. “You see, the heart won’t make seeds, it will stay green,” Antoine Guyot shows while peeling flowers. He and his father, Frédéric, who live in EARL, predict yields will fall, “between 20 and 40 percent for maize” and “20% for sunflower compared to last year”.

The heart of this sunflower will not mature. Performance is noticeably reduced.

An opportunity for these grain growers, “the winter crop is picked at the right time” and not subject to intense heat. However, the spring crop promised to be a bountiful harvest, “the corn started off well, well, now there are only small seeds left,” recalls Frédéric.

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Faced with this climate, farmers have switched crops in recent years: “We are growing more and more sunflowers, which are the most drought tolerant. In addition, it requires much less expensive input”. They do not rule out stopping planting corn, and at the same time producing more winter crops, “early wheat ears in May”. Now they are hoping for rain, “no hailstorms”, without alarm, for their previous bountiful harvests.

Predictions among breeders

For breeders, we also remain pragmatic and we anticipate. Sébastien Chapron rears a herd of 13 cows, and their calves of the Limousin breed, on the farm of the convent of Saint-Pantaléon, in Saint-Dizier, as well as Ardennes horses. So when he cut 8.5 hectares of wheat, he kept some straw for his cattle. “I always have stock a year in advance and there, I decided to keep the 3 hectares of cut straw for food,” he explains.

And he was right, his lawns had become parched lawns. Therefore, he began to feed the cattle this straw and hay. “Even if the drought continues, I will be able to manage.”

The grassland is now like a dry moor.

On the other hand, for water, he can no longer rely on his fountain. He uses drinking water, which he pays at the expense of farmers. “My fountain currently does not have enough flow rate, knowing that I sent a 6,000 l tank for cows and 3,000 l for horses.” At this rate, the bill is likely to get salty.

Expected rainfall

The problem is the opposite of Bertrand Aubriot, from the GAEC de la Crouée in Villiers-en-Lieu. “Currently, we water the cows through wells and streams. I have no concerns about this, at the moment,” said the moderator.

Farmers had anticipated the risk of drought, producing more straw than needed.

On the other hand, its grasslands are dry. “Animals have to go out in the pasture, that’s normal. But the grass no longer grows in some parks, and in others it withers,” said the farmer. So he compensates by giving straw, knowing it won’t benefit him financially. “We feed them, but we don’t fatten them up.” He has also increased his production of straw: “We always do more than in winter. It’s just that it takes us two to three hours to bring the straw, instead of doing something else.”

His birds have not yet suffered the heat, quite the contrary. “These are still chicks, which need temperatures between 25 and 30°C. Then, since they’re outdoors, they’ll come out and go into the shade. Animals are like us anyway, more than 30°C, it’s hard to bear”, he concluded.

In May, the grass is green and fat, good for the cows.

Regarding the wheat and grain production of the two breeders, the harvest was correct, “not to mention an unusual year”. In the end, everyone agreed that the situation was not a cause for concern, but it shouldn’t last through August either.

Marie-Helene Degaugue

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