“The straw, it takes quickly”, explains Arthur de Waal. In his village of Bouillancy, in the Oise, less than 100 kilometers from Paris, this farmer saw a quarter of his annual wheat production go up in smoke on Sunday.
His neighbour’s combine harvester, which was working on the same task, “set fire to two places on the plot”, “the wind was pushing towards mine and it quickly caught fire”, testifies the farmer in field crops (barley, rapeseed, wheat, etc.), 35 years old and installed since 2013.
With a combine harvester, “you have to imagine a side cutter bar that is eight to ten meters wide and to cut the wheat, two blades intersect, like a chisel, iron against iron, it can make a spark and when there is very dry straw on it which catches fire, it spreads at breakneck speed”, describes Christiane Lambert, president of the National Federation of Farmers’ Unions (FNSEA).
From a discarded cigarette butt near a field to overheating agricultural machinery, farm fires have increased due to the heat and dry soil.
“The awareness dates back to 2019, when there were very large fires under the combined effect of high heat and strong winds”, recalls Linda Monnier, director of the Departmental Federation of Agricultural Operators Unions (FDSEA) of the ‘oise.
That year, the Oise was hit by a series of devastating harvest fires. A farmer died, trapped by the flames, in the middle of the harvest.
– A very early harvest –
To avoid conflagration, working hours are brought forward to the morning, delayed to the evening, or even carried out at night.
“The harvesters used for harvesting are followed by stubble cultivators, a tool with teeth which allows the soil to be turned over” to contain a possible outbreak of fire, details Hervé Davesne, field crop farmer, also in the Oise.
At the FNSEA, Christiane Lambert observes: “The alternation of climatic events changes our bearings” and the harvests began this year “three weeks in advance”.
Not without consequence, “weather changes reduce the yield of the plots, but also the quality of the product”, indicates Christian Daniau, farmer in field crops (straw cereals, oilseeds) and president of the Chamber of Agriculture of Charente.
For the farmer, the 2022 wheat harvest is “20 to 25% less yield” compared to its ten-year average while “a month and a half ago we were very confident, we had a smile and the prices were pretty good.”
– Falling harvest, embarrassed animals –
The first heat wave in June accelerated the ripening of wheat grains: “Instead of making six tons, we make four”, sums up Christian Daniau.
According to the statistical service of the Ministry of Agriculture, Agreste, on July 1, the harvest of straw cereals, such as barley or wheat, would be down by 3.4 million tonnes over one year, to 48.3 million. .
As these heat episodes and their intensity multiply under the effects of global warming, animals are also suffering.
“if people can understand that it will be cooler in a few days, this is not the case for animals who suffer from this heat”, underlines Mrs. Lambert (FNSEA).
Cattle, for example, leave their thermal comfort zone at 22°C degrees and pigs at 25°C degrees. Beyond that, problems of animal health but also of economic profitability are added to the balance.
A dairy cow can “lose up to 20% of its production when 35°C degrees are exceeded” but it can also “abort and lose (its) calf”, describes Ms. Lambert.