Hungarian farmers battle ‘historic’ drought
Many farmers give up raising livestock
Andras Eordogh watches in awe as his dozen foals as they frolic and kick up dust on his farm in the scorching summer heat and laments that he will have to sell most of them because of climate change in this rural corner of southeastern Hungary, Reuters reported.
The soft-spoken 66-year-old horse breeder, who loves teaching local children to ride his foals, said a severe drought means he can no longer harvest enough fodder to feed the horses.
“I really wanted to keep them…but I’ve been farming here for almost three decades and I can’t remember such a severe drought,” said Eordogh, who owns 150 hectares where he raises horses and cattle and farms cereals and vegetables.
The region known as Homokhatsag (Sand Ridge), located between the two main Hungarian rivers, the Danube and the Tisza, is a key agricultural area, where corn, cereals and sunflowers are grown, and generally receives 550 to 600 millimeters of rain per year.
However, data from the Hungarian meteorological service shows that it only received 120 to 150 millimeters in the first half of 2022.
“A lot of people are just giving up raising animals. They will slowly lose their livelihoods,” said Ferenc Szepe, 68, another local farmer, as he stared gloomily at the handwritten monthly rainfall diary he had. stored for years.
“I want to raise horses, not camels,” he added.
Farmers across Hungary have reported “historic” drought damage affecting some 550,000 hectares of land, the agriculture ministry said this month.
Climate change is expected to affect most Hungarian farmland, but the Homokhatsag region is particularly vulnerable, said Karoly Barta, a researcher at the University of Szeged.
“The Homokhatsag… lies higher than the two surrounding rivers and its sandy soil dries out quickly,” he said.
A lake in the middle of a village, Jaszszentlaszlo, where many residents learned to swim as children, dried up years ago.
The mayors of Jaszszentlaszlo and two nearby villages and local farmers, including Szepe, banded together five years ago to block hundreds of kilometers of canals crisscrossing their land to retain rainwater. The canals were built during the communist era to drain the area and increase arable land.
Farmers said they could live with the increased risk that this plan brought about occasional flooding of their land.
The plan violated an old law that said canals had to be left open to drain excess rainwater and channel it to the Danube and Tisza, but farmers said they had tacit approval from authorities .
“They see the situation is dire…and they tolerate breaking the rules because they see our results,” said Csaba Toldi, the group’s leader.
But this year’s drought ultimately derailed the project.
The winter and spring rains mostly failed, leaving water only in the Jaszszentlaszlo channel, but this too had dried up by May.
“The last year the canals were full of water was 2019… This is the third year of the drought, and that’s the biggest,” Toldi said.
“HOPEING FOR RAIN”
Istvan Lang, director of the General Directorate of Water Management, said in March that the government would spend 200 billion forints ($511 million) over the next eight years to save the Homokhatsag region from the drying up and that about 10% of the work had already been done.
Local farmers said they were unaware of these plans and only heard about them through the media.
Gergely Lajko, a 27-year-old farmer, said he would rather find solutions than complain. “But we just hope it rains now, there’s not much else we can do.”
Lajko returned home to Jaszszentlaszlo with his wife three years ago and bought a farm and three horses.
They planned to expand the farm into a small business raising sheep, pigs and chickens this year, but the drought could put some of those projects on hold.
“Maybe we should find out what grows in the desert. Arabian horse breeds? Kiwis? Camels?” Lajko chuckled. “Those are our bitter jokes these days.”