The heat wave is adding to adverse weather events earlier in the year, causing a decline in milk production and chickens being fed sports drinks.

Corn yields are waning, milk output is shrinking and chickens are sipping electrolytes as unprecedented heat bakes some of Europe’s key farming regions.

France, an agriculture heavyweight, is at risk of record-breaking temperatures and fires, while the UK has issued its most severe heat warning and half of Italian farms are parched. That’s compounding problems for food producers, who weathered frosts, hail and drought in the first half of the year.

Risks to the corn harvest are particularly worrying at a time when shipments into Europe are threatened by the war in Ukraine. Supply disruptions have driven up prices, fueling an inflationary surge as governments scramble to ease a cost-of-living crisis.

“We are seeing problem after problem,” said Serge Zaka, an agro-climatologist at French agronomic and technology firm ITK. “We have an impact from stress of the temperatures and a stress of the water. The combination of the two stresses is far more difficult for agriculture than just one.”

Corn crops are in the midst of flowering, a vital phase to determining yields. That leaves the plants vulnerable, as adverse weather can curb the number of kernels that ultimately fill with grain, reducing feed supplies for the region’s livestock.

Consultant Strategie Grains lowered its European Union corn production estimate earlier this month and the balmy weather is further hampering prospects, according to crop analyst Aurelien Blary. Sunflower and soybean fields are also at risk from the hot, dry conditions, he said. “The weather forecast is not pointing to any optimism,” Blary said by phone, adding that one positive sign is an acceleration of wheat harvests caused by the heat. French farmers are halfway done at a time when they’d barely started last year.

Lower corn output has caused growing concern since the EU normally imports large volumes from Ukraine, where shipments remain constrained by Russia’s invasion. Paris corn futures are up 11% already in July and are trading at a record for the time of year. More than half the growing area will face moisture shortages the next 10 days, according to Commodity Weather Group.

At Traditional Norfolk Poultry in England’s East Anglia region, staff are starting early – around 4 or 5am – to make sure its 1 million free-range chickens get fresh food and litter early in the day, leaving them undisturbed once temperatures rise. The birds also get electrolytes in their water, a salty solution akin to sports drinks that encourages them to drink more, said managing director Mark Gorton. “We start to introduce it to them before it gets too hot, so they’re all nicely hydrated,” he said.

Nearby in Suffolk, Andrew Blenkiron has been watering fields of carrots, potatoes and onions a third more than normal to cope with the arid conditions. Coupled with the soaring cost of electricity, the annual irrigation bill at the farm he manages could climb to 350,000 pounds ($419,000) from 80,000 pounds last year. Winter-wheat output is likely to drop a third below normal. The farm also ensures pigs have ponds to wallow in outdoors, Blenkiron said. Sheep and cattle are getting straw as the grasslands they graze on dry up.

Stress to cattle can also threaten dairies, according to Amelia Caffarra, an agronomist at ITK. Cows produce less and lower-quality milk in hot weather, while the heat can also spur changes in their hormonal balance that hamper fertility. “There’s a lag in the time of recovery,” she said. “So production will be impacted probably for a few weeks even after the heat wave.”

Original source: https://www.bloomberg.com