Editorial: Weather effects on agriculture

Last Updated on Saturday, 9 December, 2023 at 10:43 am by Andre Camilleri

The changes in climate, which have resulted in weather extremes happening more and more often, are no doubt affecting agriculture in a big way.

We have just experienced the driest October in the last 100 years, which followed one of the hottest summers we ever lived through, which in turn was followed by heavy rains in early September which led many to think that the summer days were over.

In an interview carried in The Malta Independent on Sunday, Joe Cassar, manager of Malta’s largest farming cooperative, said that it is expected that the price of fruit and vegetables should continue to rise because of shortages that are on the verge of being scarcities.

Farmers continue to struggle to cultivate the produce that is needed – and, let us remember, with more and more people living in Malta on a permanent basis, as the population nears 550,000 – there is an even bigger requirement.

When it does not rain, it is a problem. When it rains in sudden bursts and rather heavily, it is a problem too. And this is what the ever decreasing number of farmers is facing on a year to year, if not week to week, basis.

For example, produce that grows better in colder temperatures, is in difficulty and will take longer to mature, given that the cooler temperatures are still to hit the islands. This has an impact on the cycle of products that is grown locally. Added to this, Cassar explained that farmers are now being required to grow fruit and vegetables that are “new” to Malta as there is a demand for them from the many foreigners who have come to live here.

While it is normal that there are years which are drier than others, what is happening lately is of greater concern. To have an October with just 0.2 millimetres of rainfall is something that has never been seen and this kind of weather changes is having its own negative impact on the farmers and their fields.

Lack of rainfall also means that farmers have to use water to irrigate their fields. Water costs money, and this then needs to be reflected in the price consumers have to pay for the products they buy. Maltese farmers also have to contend with the fact that, in this day and age where it is easier and faster to import items from abroad, big companies are bringing in vegetables and fruit from other countries, almost on a daily basis.

Added to all this, plant diseases and pests are also enemies that farmers have to fight against on a regular basis.

It is not an easy time being a farmer, and this situation is likely to push people further away from jobs related to agriculture. Cassar said that most of the farmers are between 55 and 65 years old, and there are few who are aged less than 40. We may be facing an even bigger crisis in the sector in the decades to come.

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