German Farmers Struck By Drought Fear Further Damage From Climate Change : The Salt High temperatures and a severe drought have hit food production in Germany and left many farmers there wondering what they can do to survive climate change.
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German Farmers Struck By Drought Fear Further Damage From Climate Change

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German Farmers Struck By Drought Fear Further Damage From Climate Change

German Farmers Struck By Drought Fear Further Damage From Climate Change

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

In Germany, there have been record-high temperatures and no rainfall since early April, and that has led to a drought. Thousands of farms are now facing bankruptcy because of crop failure. This week, the government pledged $390 million in aid. For many, that's not enough. As Esme Nicholson reports, German farmers are starting to question whether they can cope with climate change.

ESME NICHOLSON, BYLINE: Farmer Tim Knobloch and his son are tilling the fields on their farm in Lower Saxony. The soil they're cultivating is some of Germany's richest. But this year it's turned to dust, and as a result, arable yields are down. Knobloch Sr. says he waited to sell his wheat until prices went up, and that's helped him avoid disaster.

TIM KNOBLOCH: (Through interpreter) While we harvested far less wheat than usual, the price exploded, and I was able to sell what I had at a 25 percent markup. So I've only made a 10 percent loss this year. I've done well compared with other farmers around here.

NICHOLSON: As he drives past his fields, Knobloch is not as confident about the corn. He points to plants that are only waist-high. He says they should be 10 feet by now. According to the German Farmers Association, 10,000 farms are facing financial ruin. Dairy farmers are slaughtering cows because there's not enough feed. And in some areas, arable farmers have lost up to 70 percent of their crops.

BERNARD KRUSKEN: We have to look beyond summer of 2018. There has to be a second level of support. That means we need political measures to increase the resilience of farms.

NICHOLSON: Bernard Krusken is general secretary of Germany's largest farming lobby. He wants tax breaks for farmers and a detailed strategy about how to deal with climate change.

KRUSKEN: What we're seeing now is that farmers are paying the bill for other people's emissions. We are making the point that agriculture can provide the solution to manage climate change.

NICHOLSON: Back at the farm house, Knobloch says he constantly adapts how he farms because of climate change.

KNOBLOCH: (Through interpreter) We try to play our part here. I introduced crop rotation because it's much better for the soil. The corn we produce is turned into biogas. We spray as little nitrogen as possible. Even our tractors are the latest fuel-efficient models. Frankly, I'm not sure what else I can do.

NICHOLSON: Germany's agriculture minister, Julia Kloeckner, has promised farmers up to 340 million euros in financial aid. It's a far cry from the billion euros demanded by the farmers' lobby, but the minister says she has to justify it to taxpayers who could end up paying extra for food anyway.

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JULIA KLOECKNER: (Through interpreter) There's no need for panic. Supermarket shelves are still full. But some supermarkets are already cashing in and raising prices. Farmers are not profiting from these increased margins. I am appealing to all parties to play fair.

NICHOLSON: At a busy farmers' market in Berlin, vegetable stallholder Tim Schirmer says he's trying to cushion his regular customers from the effects of the drought.

TIM SCHIRMER: (Through interpreter) Take a look at these potatoes. They should be much bigger. But potatoes need water, so this is as big as they're going to get this year, which is bad news for a nation of potato eaters.

NICHOLSON: It's not only French fries that are set to go up in price. Breweries are worried about a shortage of barley and have warned that the shortfall will be reflected in the price of that other German staple - beer. For NPR News, I'm Esme Nicholson in Berlin.

(SOUNDBITE OF SOULS OF MISCHIEF SONG, "93 'TIL INFINITY")

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