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A heat wave in Europe threatens crops as grain from Ukraine remains blocked


Grain stored at a farm on the outskirts of Lviv, Ukraine, May 17, 2022.

By Maham Javaid


Mountains of wheat stuck in Ukraine were already straining the global food supply when the heat wave sweeping across Europe only made things worse.


The crop in France, the European Union’s largest and the world’s fourth-largest wheat exporter, is especially important this year with more than 20 million tons of grain in Ukraine blocked from distribution by Russian warships.


However, prolonged droughts and heat have hurt the wheat crops in France.


In the first forecast of the season, the agriculture ministry said the country’s soft wheat output would drop by 7.2% this year from 2021’s total. Soft wheat is one variety of the crop and is used for cakes, pastries and cookies. According to data from the agriculture ministry, France’s soft wheat crop had been declining since May.


Worried about the excessive heat destroying the crops, some farmers in France harvested the wheat earlier than usual, and, as a result, their yield was lower than predicted, said the ministry.


The heat wave is stretching across parts of France, Spain, Italy and Portugal and is expected to scorch Britain in the next few days. The EU, which produces 17.6% of the world’s wheat, has reduced its estimate for the soft wheat crop by roughly 5 million tons, from an earlier prediction.


Even before the harvest in Europe began wilting in the heat, the food crisis was dire partly because of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.


Russian and Ukrainian negotiators met in Istanbul last week to work out a deal about how grain could be released from Ukraine.


The negotiations were held in Istanbul with representatives from the United Nations and military officials from Russia, Ukraine and Turkey. They had raised hopes for a breakthrough and ended with progress, a U.N. official said, but no comprehensive deal.


“This was a first meeting, the progress was extremely encouraging. We hope that the next steps will allow us to come to a formal agreement,” said Secretary-General António Guterres, speaking to reporters in New York after the 90-minute meeting ended.


There are also reports of crops being burned in Ukraine — last week, in Siversk, a frontline town, fields of wheat lay burned and blackened. Additionally, farmers near port cities worry that if their bins are not emptied soon, they won’t have any space to store the new harvest.

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