Sweden’s farmers count cost of historic drought

As an unprecedented drought scorches large swathes of Sweden’s green pastures, farmers are having to send their animals to slaughter because they have no hay left to feed them. “This is the worst thing I’ve ever experienced… my father who was a farmer for 60 years has never seen anything like this before,” says Jacob Gustawson in Norrtalje, a town north of Stockholm, as the 47-year-old eyes the sky for the tiniest cloud offering some hope of rain.
But, aside from a paltry 13 millimetres that fell in mid-June, there has been practically none since the beginning of May, as Sweden pants under the hottest temperatures in over a century. “May was exceptionally warm in southern and central Sweden. June was the warmest in more than 100 years in southernmost Sweden,” Sverker Hellstrom of the Swedish Meteorological and Hydrological Institute said.
Firefighters say they are putting out between “20 and 30 wildfires per day” near Stockholm while other blazes are raging across the country, even in the Arctic circle. Sweden’s King Carl XVI Gustaf, who is also a landowner and rarely comments on public matters, expressed concern over the fires engulfing his nation. “I and the royal family would like to express our support to all those who have been affected by the fires,” he said in a statement.
A large part of Sweden, as well as Denmark, southern Norway and northern Finland, is currently experiencing a period of extreme heat which, according to weather forecasts, is unlikely to end soon. As a result, farmers are being forced to disrupt their seasonal routines because crops such as fodder for animals are not growing the way they used to.
“Normally, at this time of the year, it’s supposed to be” about 30-40 centimetres high, Jacob Gustawson tells as he points to the grass which is barely 10 centimetres tall. The farmer, who leads a herd of more than one hundred dairy cows with his wife Anette Gustawson, is forced to feed the animals with winter reserves “to keep them alive”.
“We have to feed the cows inside now, all the forage for the winter time are being fed now and nothing new is growing so I don’t know what is going to happen in the winter time,” he says.
Apart from the lack of water, the milk from the cows is also a major concern. If the animals are not well-fed then their product’s quality will suffer too. — AFP

Helene DAUSCHY