The German government said Wednesday it will compensate thousands of farmers whose harvests have suffered as a result of this year's extreme drought, which many experts have linked to climate change.
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Agriculture Minister Julia Kloeckner said the harvest estimates received so far justified the decision to declare the drought an "event of national extent." That verdict unlocks the release of some 340 million euros ($390 million) in aid from federal and state governments.
The amount available falls short of what German farmers had asked for and the 3 billion euros ($3.45 billion) economic damage reported by just eight of Germany's 16 states.
The German Farmers Association had called for 1 billion euros in aid after its president, Joachim Rukwied, said cereal crop harvests nationwide were down 25.6 percent compared with the average of the previous five years. He said the harvest in some parts of Germany could be said to have failed entirely and that the cost of the drought could increase further.
"We urgently need rain," he said.
Kloeckner said the government couldn't cover all the damage and noted that the price increases for some crops would soften the blow. Fruit and vegetable harvests were higher in 2018 than in previous years, she noted.
Like much of Europe, Germany has seen little rain and long spells of very hot weather since April. According to the German Meteorological Service, the country experienced the highest temperature anomalies since the start of official records in 1881.
Scientists say the unusually early and long summer of 2018 is an indicator of the kinds of weather European countries can increasingly expect to see due to man-made global warming. Germany's agriculture sector is said to be responsible for at least 7 percent of the country's greenhouse gas emissions.
"The agricultural sector clearly shows how risks increase due to global warming," said Hermann Lotze-Campen, an agricultural economist at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. Some years will see higher temperatures and droughts, while in others there will be heavy rain and floods, he said.
"The best way to prevent the danger is to stabilize the climate," Lotze-Campen said. He suggested farmers could contribute by reducing their use of nitrogen-based fertilizers and changing animal farming methods. Producing a pound of beef or pork requires many times more water than consumer crops.
Environmental group Greenpeace urged the German government to reveal whether farms that engage in mass meat production receive any of the financial aid now being promised.
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