Rome

Steaming-hot summer in Italy threatens wine harvest

Up to 30% loss in of crops to drought, farmers fear

Steaming-hot summer in Italy threatens wine harvest

(ANSA) - Rome, August 20 - As the thermometer remains stubbornly high in much of Italy, energy bills are soaring and the fall harvest is threatened. Consumers are using record amounts of energy to run air conditioners and fans to keep cool, farmers fear they will lose as much as 30% of their crops to drought and the ill and elderly are trapped inside their homes. One man died near his tractor while working in the heat in the fields near Francica, in the southern area of Calabria. Fortunato Mondella, 73, is believed to have died from an illness worsened by the extreme heat. Another heat wave boiling up from Africa continues to menace much of the country. The latest, dubbed Caligula, led the ministry of health to issue a red alert early this week for several Italian cities, including Rome, where temperatures were expected to hit 37 degrees Celsius, and Verona, where the temperatures would feel like 38 degrees. Still, record-keepers say this year's heat has not beaten the 2003 mark for heat. "That year in each of the four months between May and August, the recorded temperatures were the warmest since 1800," says Michele Brunetti, an atmosphere specialist at the National Research Council. That is no comfort to Italian farmers whose losses could reach 1.2 billion euros this year, according to the Italian Confederation of Farmers. "The poor weather conditions are leading to a generalized decline in production volumes in excess of 25-30%, with peaks of 50% for certain sectors," says the agricultural organization. Add in rising input and labour costs, and farmers are facing a very difficult time, says the organization. White grapes for the production of sparkling Oltrepo Pavese and Franciacorta face a 20% drop in production, adds Coldiretti, representing farmers across Italy. Reductions in wine production are also expected in the rest of Lombardy, Puglia, Veneto, Tuscany, Emilia-Romagna, Piedmont, and Friuli Venezia-Giulia, says Coldiretti. Tomato and corn crops could drop as much as 30% this year, soybeans could be down 40% and forecasts are for a cut by half in sugar beet production. Meanwhile, temperatures reaching 36 degrees in Italy's northern mountain region are creating unusual hazards, says the Safe Mountain Foundation. While the Western Alps are currently very dry, changes in temperatures are causing poor conditions and such hazards as falling rocks, glaciers and problems with snow bridges.

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