Italian durum wheat and dairy farmer Attilio Tocchi saw warning signs during the winter of the dramatic drought to come at his holding a mile away from the Tuscan coast.
“When it still hadn’t rained at the beginning of spring we realised it was already irreparable,” he said, adding that he had installed fans to try and cool his cows that were suffering in the heat.
Drought in southern Europe threatens to reduce cereal production in Italy and parts of Spain to its lowest level in at least 20 years, and hit other regional crops including olives and almonds.
Castile and Leon, the largest cereal growing region in Spain, has been particularly badly affected, with crop losses estimated at around 60 to 70 per cent.
“This year was not bad, it was catastrophic. I can’t remember a year like this since 1992 when I was a little child,” said Joaquin Antonio Pino, a cereal farmer in Sinlabajos, Avila.
Pino said many of his fields had not even been harvested, because crop revenues would not cover the wages of labourers who gathered them.
While the EU is collectively a major wheat exporter, Spain and Italy both rely on imports from countries including France, Britain and Ukraine.
Spanish soft wheat imports are expected to rise by more than 40 per cent to 5.6 million tonnes in the 2017-2018 marketing year, according to Agroinfomarket.
The drought has helped support EU wheat futures, which have risen around 6 per cent since the beginning of June, although the prospect of a larger harvest in France this year should ensure adequate overall supplies in the trading bloc.
Spain and Italy are also among the world’s top producers of olive oil. Production in both countries is expected to fall, but the decline is likely to be particularly steep in Italy, where drought is the latest headache for olive growers already plagued by insects and a bacterial disease in recent years.