Under the fork of this operator, the ground crumbles like sand. And at the end of a freshly dug foot, only “two or three” potatoes seem viable. The others, the size of a ping-pong ball or even a marble, “would need water to grow”, he explains.
Except that it is not raining “and that we no longer have the right to irrigate”.
After the least rainy month of July ever recorded in France, the North, like all of France, suffered a record drought. The prefecture has placed for the first time in its history a portion of the territory, the Yser basin, at the level of “drought crisis”.
Prohibition to water his garden, his vegetable patch, or even to irrigate crops: in this area, which has 37 municipalities and 45,000 inhabitants, the restrictions are drastic. Only “fresh vegetables” can be watered, on certain nights of the week.
Regional flagship, provider of agricultural and industrial jobs, the potato does not benefit from these derogations. “Incomprehensible”, slice Mr. Bollengier.
– “Disconnected” –
“Below 35 mm, a potato is not marketable. To make fries, you need big ones” and “at the start of the year, we are committed to industrialists on a tonnage”, explains he. “If I do not honor my commitments, I should pay the difference”.
“If it doesn’t rain by August 15, I risk having a 50% loss in yield,” he sighs, warning of a rise in the price of fresh produce and fries.
Market gardener, cereal farmer, poultry farmer and representative of the FDSEA at the head of a 115-hectare farm, Mr. Bollengier points to a decree “disconnected from the field”.
For fresh vegetables, “the imposed schedules are illogical”, he still believes. And for “those who have stored rainwater in winter” or “recycle that of industrialists”, “the decree is not clear”.
Breeders in the North, like those in neighboring Pas-de-Calais, are also very worried. “There is no more grass in the meadows, with two months in advance”, and fodder corn has “very little developed”, regrets Antoine Jean, departmental spokesman for the Rural Coordination.
As in the south, some “have already begun to use their winter hay reserves to feed the animals”.
– “Ecosystem in danger” –
The North, “where water was reputed to be abundant”, and where “we thought we were a little better protected than elsewhere”, now realizes that it is “no longer safe”, notes since Herzeele, a nearby town, Bertrand Warnez, departmental head of the OFB (French Office for Biodiversity).
“These last six years, we have experienced five years of drought decrees”, increasingly early and intense. “With global warming, we have come to the time of sharing water, which will be lacking” and “restrictions will become more frequent”, he warns.
Barely wet soles, he crosses with his brigade the bed of the Yser, a river “arrived at a level never seen”, 60 cm below normal.
Stones and emerged earth make him fear “breaks in the flow, which would force the fish to regroup “in puddles”.
“The ecosystem is in danger”: at these levels, the water heats up, pollutants concentrate and oxygen becomes scarce, he summarizes, not to mention the “risk of development of toxic bacteria”.
What also poses a problem on the other side of the border, in Belgium, where surface water catchments from the Yzer produce drinking water, underlines Léa Lelièvre, organizer of the “Schéma d’Aménagement et of Water Management” (SAGE).
According to Mr. Warnez, the situation requires adaptations and changes in practices.
“But our investments, we make them over the very long term,” objects Denis Bollengier. “I want to pass the operation on to my son, with prospects. There, I am starting to have doubts”.