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Floods destroy crops and drown livestock in one of Italy’s gastronomic heartlands

Roma, Italy

When the rain started falling last week in the northern Italian region of Emilia-Romagna – one of the main gastronomic destinations in a country famous for its gastronomy – farmer Andrea Betti feared the worse.

In early May, six months of rain fell over a two-week period, breaking the drought that had lasted for years, but not in the way they wanted. Then another six months of rain fell, this time in 36 hours.

“The ground was dry due to the drought, cracks formed and, as we know, dry ground becomes impermeable,” said Betti, who is also vice-president of agricultural organization Confagricoltura Ravenna. “The water then slips away, destroying everything.”

What also slipped were orchards, vineyards and crops ready for harvest. Thousands of farms are still under water, countless heads of cattle have perished or are at risk of starvation. Videos showed pigs swimming in the flood waters. And the rain continues.

The Confagricoltura puts the damage price at €6,000 ($6,500) per hectare for arable crops like wheat, barley, corn, soybeans, sunflowers, alfalfa and other seed crops.

The cost for orchards, vineyards and olive groves is more than five times higher, at €32,000 per hectare.

The group claims that 40 municipalities with such cultures are overwhelmed. If water infiltrates, crops left standing may survive. But the longer the water remains stagnant, the greater the risk of root rot, which means these crops will need to be replanted.

La Coldiretti, the country’s national farmers’ federation, said in a statement that the damage is “incalculable”, with the most affected sector being the fruit and vegetable sector.

“The slow runoff of water left in orchards ‘chokes’ tree roots until they rot and risks ruining entire plantations that will take years to become productive again,” the group said.

Crops already harvested are also at risk. “In some cases, water has also entered the warehouses and the wet grain will no longer be viable with enormous economic damage,” Massimo Masetti, director of the Ravenna Agricultural Consortium, warned in a radio interview.

Emilia-Romagna is one of the richest regions in Italy. The region produces 9.1% of the country’s GDP. Employment is 68%, almost three times higher than in the south of the country.

The region is known as the “Valley of Food” and has 19 museums celebrating regional cuisine and products, including Parmigano cheese, Parma ham, balsamic vinegar and other delicacies the region is known for .

Firefighters come to rescue people and recover their belongings after floods hit the Fornace Zarattini district of Ravenna in Italy's Emilia-Romagna region on May 20.

There are more Michelin-starred restaurants per capita in this region than in any other in Italy. Food tours draw millions of people to the region every year.

It was, in other words, one of the most livable places in the country – until now.

When a devastating earthquake hit the north of the flooded area in 2012, damage to the heart of the “made in Italy” country reached more than 13 billion euros.

This flood could triple that, according to Coldiretti, but the true cost won’t be calculated until the water recedes. Coldiretti fears thousands of cattle have drowned.

Farm organizations say there are currently over 5,000 farms with greenhouses/nurseries, stables, “submerged” barns but they haven’t even begun to inspect the farms and communities still cut off by the landslides. ground.

These hilltop towns will have suffered no damage from the floods, but after days without food, water and electricity, they are beginning to receive reports of dire situations.

Extreme weather conditions such as those that occurred this month in Emilia-Romagna puzzle even the experts. Luca Mercalli, president of the Italian Meteorological Society, told reporters on site that there was no way to predict such disasters.

“The only new thing to say about the latest floods is that two records were broken in 15 days in the same region. An event like the one that happened on May 2 may happen once in a century, but another strikes 15 days later – having two occasions of intense rain in such a short period of time and in the same region is is what is really surprising.

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