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A set of truffles weighing 850 grams is seen during the international auction for truffles at the Grinzane Castle in Grinzane Cavour near Alba, Italy, November 12, 2017. REUTERS/ Stefano Rellandini(reuters_tickers)
ALBA, Italy (Reuters) - It's bad news for white truffle fans. Dry weather and changing climate patterns have hit production and sent prices soaring.
The winning bidder for the biggest truffle at this year's Alba White Truffle auction in Italy, from Hong Kong, paid 75,000 euros (66,593.65 pounds) for a well-rounded truffle weighing 850 grams.
Master truffle hunter Piercarlo Vacchina has trained his two dogs Rocky and Jimmy to hunt for the delicacy but says the last few years of drought have taken their toll. He insists he's not in it for the money any more.
"More than the money, I'd say it's the passion - because unfortunately in the last few years, it's been really hard to pay even the dogs' expenses, the vet bills and everything," he says.
Alba, a small town in the northwestern region of Piemonte, is known as Italy's white truffle capital.
Every year at this time it hosts the famous International Alba White Truffle Fair which attracts around 100,000 visitors from all over the world who come to buy, sell and smell the tasty tuber.
A highlight of the fair is the truffle auction, now in its eighteenth year, with proceeds going to charitable causes. This Sunday it took place in Grinzane Cavour Castle with live satellite links to Hong Kong and Dubai.
But climate change, drought and severe storms, and a trend to grow more vines for wine, have undermined production and sent prices soaring.
"It's not an exceptional year. It's a poor year, with very high prices and very few truffles," says truffle hunter and seller Gianluca Sacchetto.
Over the past 25 years, there has been a 30 percent decrease in truffle production - and, in some places, they are disappearing altogether.
Almost two-thirds of Italy's farmland has been hit by a prolonged drought this year, costing Italian agriculture some 2 billion euros, according to farmers association Coldiretti.
Limited supply of white truffles inevitably drives the prices up and this year they have reached an all time high with an average price of 6,000 euros per kilo.
Truffle hunter Marilena Tarable says with this week's much needed rain the truffles have started growing a little bigger and a bit rounder because the earth has softened.
"But up until now, with the very hard earth, it's really hard to extract them," she says.
(Reporting by Cristiano Corvino; Writing by Stephen Jewkes; Editing by Peter Graff)