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Climate crisis Swiss farmers told to adapt to the heat or go bust

Farmer delivering water to cows

Uphill battle: a Swiss farmer delivers water to his cows on August 7

(Keystone)

As Switzerland experiences the driest summer since records began, agricultural scientist Urs Niggli says farmers, who have seen significant crop failure, must adapt in order to survive. 

Drought conditions in recent months have seen wide-ranging bans on outdoor fires, emergency water supplies airlifted to thirsty cows and a slowdown in the activity of the Mühleberg nuclear plant in Bern as it struggles to keep vital equipment cool. 

The government also announced a range of temporary measures to ease the heatwave-related difficulties faced by many farmers across the country. 

But Urs Niggliexternal link, an agronomist from the Research Institute of Organic Agriculture, warns there will be more heatwave summers in the future, with livestock and dairy farmers hit particularly hard. 

“The drought of 2018 has resulted in crop failures of up to 30%,” he told Swiss newspaper Blickexternal link on Friday. 

+ Swiss cereal harvests set to drop in 2018 after hot weather

In the short term, the shortage of animal feed could be compensated for by importing hay, he said. “But in the long term, livestock numbers in Switzerland would have to be drastically reduced.” 

This would have immense economic consequences, said Blick. “The equation is simple: less milk means less income,” it wrote. 

Baked potatoes 

Around two-thirds of Switzerland is agricultural land. According to Niggli, farmers will have to adapt to increased temperatures when deciding what to grow. While cereals are more heat-resistant, potatoes can be problematic, he says. “Potatoes are extremely sensitive when it comes to dryness.” 

Swiss farmers must therefore take measures to prepare for future heat phases, he said. “They’ll have to guarantee their harvest with the help of research and breeding.” 

As a result, he believes farmers will increasingly rely on drought-tolerant varieties of crops and will also need to upgrade their farmland with irrigation systems. 

“Adapt, otherwise you have no chance!” he warned the farmers.

swissinfo.ch/ts

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