November 30, 2023
Floods, droughts and panic attacks: climate change is affecting European farmers

Floods, droughts and panic attacks: climate change is affecting European farmers

Climate-driven droughts and floods are harming the livelihoods and mental health of European farmers.


European agriculture has been hit by an increase in floods, droughts and heat waves in recent years.

The climate crisis is already causing economic losses to farmers and the agricultural sector and, without intervention, it is expected to get even worse.

There is no doubt about the science. “In Europe and across the world, the level of risks to the food system, functional ecosystems and human health increases substantially due to higher levels of warming,” says Dr. Peter Alexander, senior professor of agriculture and food systems at the University of Edinburgh.

Farmers across Europe have a responsibility to feeding continent – a heavy burden to bear under the weight of climate change.

In Europe, Dr. Alexander is most concerned about southern countries as they face droughts and hot seasonsfollowed by intense flooding.

Portuguese farmers are stressed by dry summers and winters

Maaike Smits is a dairy farmer with a herd of 500 cattle, including cows, heifers and steers (castrated males) in southern Portugal.

This year, it saw the hot, dry summer last until October – before falling into a dry winter. “The extremely hot climate causes stress in our animals,” he says. “We had to invest as much as possible in ventilation and an irrigation system for the cows.”

With more money invested in maintaining the cowshe is getting less profit in return.

“I’m anxious and stressed because we can’t get a price for our milk that covers the costs,” he says. “And it doesn’t allow us to invest in farm improvements, animal welfare or worker welfare.”

He falls asleep at night worrying that with dry summers and winters there won’t be enough water for the summer plantations or to drink water for the cows. Water shortages are also leading to a lack of corn silage (used to feed livestock), driving up the costs of feeding animals. Other farmers near him in Ermidas-Sadoare all say the same.

There were promises of financial support for farmers from the Portuguese government, but Smits thinks this will only “mitigate” the difficulties in the coming years. He doesn’t think it will offer a long-term solution.

Italian farmers who lose from floods

In Emilia-RomagnaItaly, Matteo Pagliarani says that May’s floods caused damage to his family’s farm, which houses crops and livestock.

“We lost our grapes, around 20 hectares of land and shelter for our animals”, says the 29-year-old farmer. “Some neighbors lost even more.”

After the floods came a summer of intense heat and dryness. “The last two years, the weather has been very dry,” he says. “The climate is changeable – it is not safe or secure.”

The unpredictability of climate It made it difficult for Pagliarani to know the best time to sow his crops and led to the disruption of his supply chains.

Although the impacts of climate change have led Pagliarani to learn and implement water resilience and plant protection in his farmhe fears that members of his rural farming community may decide to move to “safer” areas.

“Farmers are feeling really bad,” he says. “They can go look and find a more comfortable situation. We are very scared for Italy if people continue to abandon rural areas.”

As vice-president of the European Young Farmers Organisation, Pagliarani believes there is a need to provide more welfare and practical support to young farmers.


“The young farmers they are the future of the earth,” he says. “We need to invest, support and believe in them.”

Farmers in northern Europe are also witnessing extreme weather

Although England may not go through the long months of extreme Warm As with southern European countries, farmers are concerned about the constant and strong floods that devastate their farms.

Rebecca Mayhew owns a farm in norfolk where she raises sheep, pigs and goats, and also farms.

During Storm Ciaránone of many to hit the UK this year, Mayhew remembers “virtually staying up all night” with worry.

“I was waiting for the power to go out,” she says. “If we don’t have power, we won’t be able to milk, we won’t be able to operate the slaughterhouses and we won’t be able to open a business. It’s a nightmare.”


In recent years, Mayhew has observed changing seasons and extreme hotter, wetter weather in his country. farm over a shorter period of time, and this makes your mind and body very anxious.

“I never knew what a panic attack was,” she said. “It is a moment of heart acceleration and breathing shortening. I had cancer and never felt the same anxiety about it like this. That just beats you for six.

Agricultural workers fear for the future of their jobs

Climate change across Europe is not just affecting farmersbut its workers.

This summer, several agricultural workers died in the fields where they worked due to the strong heat of the sun.

Ivan Ivanov, political secretary for agriculture at EFFAT – a large European union representing workers – said extreme temperatures have led to numerous cases of heat stress and heatstroke.


Taking time off from work for heat-related reasons “could have major financial implications for workers and their families, in terms of no sick pay, treatment costs, etc.”, says Ivanov.

He adds that he is concerned about cases of skin problems Cancer we will see in the future as a result of increased UV radiation.

Despite the risks of the job, agricultural workers often have to continue working despite their working conditions.

“If I don’t work, I don’t get paid,” Aabass Echmouti, a citrus fruit picker in Valencia, told Euronews Green. “I continue working because I’m afraid of the future of my work. My life, my family and my health depend on my work.”

Echmouti also noted how recent months of little rain, followed by heavy flooding, have damaged the fruitleaving him without work or income.


“Workers do not have the autonomy to shape and organize working conditions for themselves and in a way that protects them from the dangers associated with climate change,” says Ivanov. “It is a duty of employers that, unfortunately, is often disregarded in agriculture.”

To protect farmers and agricultural workers, countries must understand the impact that climate change is having on the mental health of farmers.

How are European countries taking care of their farmers?

In Finlandthe government found that 40 percent of its farmers found their work mentally difficult, with 13 percent reporting depression.

The State’s response is to ensure that farmers know where they can obtain help. Occupational health services and the Farmers’ Social Insurance Institution are advertised options for farmers struggling with structural changes in agriculture, sharply declining profitability in agriculture, and extreme weather conditions.

In stark contrast, the UK government has stated that flood-hit farmers do not need specific mental health support, although farmers across England, Wales and Northern Ireland said increased flooding is having a huge impact on their mental health.


In France, a recent survey revealed that the suicide rate among farmers was 20% higher than the national average.

As a profession under pressure, more research is needed to review and address the scale of mental health needs of farmers in Europe. This is according to Alun Jones, representative of the Mediterranean International Center for Advanced Agricultural Studies.

“Farmers need to be looked after,” Jones told the European Parliament’s agriculture committee last year. “They are the ones who produce our food and have multiple stress factors, and part of this situation is not just about serious risks and accidents, it is about their psychosocial well-being.”

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