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Although there was a lot of rain in May, the groundwater reserves have not been replenished and farmers are worried about that their crops may not survive this summer.

It was a particularly wet May in France, but those drab and dreary hours should now be behind us, as the next three months will be "warmer and drier than normal", according to Météo France.

A scorching summer will be nothing new for France, which has already experienced successive and increasingly lengthy heat waves over the last few years.

Whereas 10 years ago, only the southern regions experienced temperatures of close to 40°, today, there are few regions of France that are spared this phenomenon. According to the map presented by the Ministry of Ecological Transition, with the assistance of Météo France, which forecasts the risks of drought for this summer, there is a "very probable" risk of the whole country experiencing spells of drought, apart from the North.

Depleted groundwater resources

Although the rainfall was very heavy in May, during which records were broken in several cities, it was not enough to wet the soils that had lacked water in March and April. Despite the quantity that fell, the water did not infiltrate the soil, rather it remained on the surface, making it particularly soft and sticky. This did not make it any easier for the market gardeners, who are afraid that their harvests will be poor this year.

The government is taking these concerns very seriously, after the frosts that affected more than half of the French vineyards and market gardens. In a desire to address this issue of water and crop management, the Minister of Agriculture, Julien Denormandie, and Bérangère Abba, Secretary of State to the Minister of the Environment and responsible for Biodiversity, inaugurated the "Varenne de l'Eau" project on Friday 28th May, whose task is to find suitable ways, by January 2022, of facilitating "the collection and use of rainwater for farmers to be able to deal with spells of drought.” In addition to the droughts, people are worried about increased seasonal contrasts, with heavy rainfall in the winter and hot dry air in the summer. These climatic variations are also causing crops to change their growing patterns.

The ‘Varenne de l’eau’ project

"Protecting against the perils of climate change and looking for ways of providing access to water for use in agriculture" is the aim of the ‘Varenne de l'Eau’ project launched on 28th May by Julien Denormandie and Bérangère Abba. There are high hopes at grass roots level and the players involved are expecting something concrete to happen in the long term.

The goal of the ‘Varenne de l'eau’ project is as follows: Collectively finding the concrete solutions required for adapting agriculture to the challenges faced by climate change.

As far as Bérangère Abba is concerned, the aim is to be "proactive" with "no taboos". This work will be “science-based” while "building on existing projects to implement new systems and devices". It thus follows on from the Assises de l’eau Water Conferences held in 2018 and 2019.

Although it is a project of great ambition, it is very tightly scheduled. The work must, in fact, result in the production of an "operational roadmap" by January 2022 for the three topics targeted as part of this Varenne project. Each of these will be supported by leading officials commissioned by the ministers, who will be responsible for establishing working groups with the parties participating on a voluntary basis (farmers, elected representatives, NGOs.....).

The first topic relates to risk management, with the government wanting to proceed quickly because the first tools must be implemented during the summer.

The second activity seeks to strengthen "the resilience of agriculture as part of a global approach". The main levers of action will focus, in particular, on soils, varieties, crop cultivation and breeding practices, agro-ecological infrastructures and the efficiency of irrigation water. Diagnoses will be carried out by the relevant sector via INRAE (National Research Institute for Agriculture, Food and the Environment) and other technical institutions, as well as at regional level by the chambers of agriculture in order to visualise the effects of climate change at national level.

Lastly, but of no less importance, we have the topic of water resources. This is an extremely sensitive issue that puts farmers in conflict with the environmental organisations.