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Last Updated: Wednesday, 6 August, 2003, 16:40 GMT 17:40 UK
Farmers' despair in parched France

By Caroline Wyatt
BBC correspondent, Loire region

Under a blazing sun, farmer Marc Touplin is rounding up his sheep from the hillside pastures of the Loire.

Normally, they would graze outside all day in summer with no need for extra fodder.

Cows at Lake Ospedale, Italy
The drought is affecting livestock throughout Europe
But there has been almost no rain here for several months, and the soil is hard and parched. There's barely any grass to eat.

Instead, Marc is feeding his flock the straw he was saving for winter.

"Finding enough feed for my flock is the biggest problem," he says.

"For nearly two months now, I've had to feed my sheep on straw and it's not very nourishing for them. It could mean health problems for the sheep later on, and it's very expensive - it's costing me thousands of euros extra."

'Catastophe'

This is the hottest summer in France in half a century, and the most serious drought in 25 years - this year's rainfall in many places is only half what it should be.

The government has promised a lot, for example to pay transport costs for the hay, but they're only offering to give 10%of what we really need
Paul Deloire
Dairy farmer
French farmers are calling it a catastrophe in the making.

They are becoming increasingly desperate as animals suffer from lack of pasture, crops wither and rivers run dry.

More than half of France's 95 departements have had to introduce water rationing, while the government has sent some emergency stocks of cattle-feed to drought-stricken farms.

Farmers say the help offered by the government simply is not enough.

The French authorities have despatched emergency stocks of straw to the worst-hit areas.

But dairy farmer Paul Deloire has paid for this delivery himself. He could not wait until government help arrived - his herd of 30 dairy cows have already eaten most of their winter fodder.

Click below to see rainfall levels in Europe, April-June 2003

"The government has promised a lot, for example to pay transport costs for the hay, but they're only offering to give 10% of what we really need. And bringing forward winter subsidies is a good idea but it isn't enough," he says.

The pastures here would normally be greener, and even the River Loire itself is a shadow of its usual self - with water levels several metres below normal. Already more than half of France's departements are rationing water use.

Vineyards suffering

The drought has even affected French winegrowers, like Georges Paire, whose vineyards usually thrive on the hot weather.

But this year is just too dry: many of the grapes are stunted and the leaves burnt - threatening a much smaller harvest than usual.

He usually produces 25,000 litres of Cote Roannaise wine a year, but this year he says production - and income - will be well down.

This is the driest year he has known in 30 years of wine-making, he says.

Like everyone else here, Georges Paire says all he can do is pray for rain before it's too late.




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