World · August 5, 2022

Drought on the Po river: fears over the harvest of rice for risotto as Italian rice fields dry up due to lack of rainfall

Risotto rice production in Italy’s Po river valley is under serious threat as a historic drought continues to cause rice paddies to dry out and toxic salting.

Farmers say the rice crops used for risotto could be damaged for years by the increased salt content, which is seeping into the land.

“As you can see, the situation is tragic, because it is a loss of almost 60%,” said the rice grower Elisa Moretto. “Losses not yet defined because, in addition to the salt water problem, we also have the problem of the great heat”.

“The 2022 crop is at risk,” he added, saying the rice plants may not even be able to spike and ripen this year due to the extreme conditions.

Rice plants in the northern Po river basin in Italy depend on groundwater. These are becoming increasingly salty due to the fact that the River Po is at an all-time low, which allows more seawater to flow down the delta.

The amount of water in the Po River, Italy’s largest, reached just 95 cubic meters (3,350 cubic feet) last month, due to drought conditions caused by the lack of both snowmelt and seasonal rains. .

This water level is one-tenth of the annual average.

Moretto, who owns the Moretto Agricultural Company, warned that these environmental problems could have a permanent effect.

“Our big problem is that if the salt remains on the ground, we risk losing future crops as well, because a salty field does not yield, it burns any type of plant and crop that is sown,” he said. “In addition to short-term damage, we have to deal with anything that is considered future damage.”

The Po Valley, which represents almost a third of Italian agricultural production, is facing an unprecedented drought.

The water levels of the Po River which flows through the region are 2 meters (7 feet) below average, while temperatures in June are 3.5 degrees higher. These environmental extremes are the result of human-induced climate change.

Almost two months have passed since rice farmers in the Po Valley were unable to draw fresh water for agriculture, creating huge ripple effects for their businesses.

Moretto hoped his business could save a third of the crop this year. But she wondered if it was possible to make a profit as other factors such as rising fuel and fertilizer costs are also having an effect.

“I cannot determine the economic loss,” he said, citing how the fertilizer price had increased from 40 to 120 euros per 100 kg.

Rodolfo Laurenti, deputy director of the Po Delta reclamation consortium, told reporters that the level of salt recorded in the waters of the Po river is far above that suitable for agriculture.

“Right now we are recording the value of 21 grams of salt per liter of water,” he said. “This value is very high and is not suitable for water distribution in agriculture, as the maximum limit is 1 gram of salt per liter,” she says.

The impact of the drought could last for many years to come as salt water is leaching inland over unprecedented distances and seeping into aquifers – subterranean layers of rock that can hold water.

The Po river is fed by a delta, in an area of ​​exchange of fresh and salt water. However, with the river at an all-time low, the saltier water flows upstream, causing the region’s salinity problems.

According to Giancarlo Mantovani, director of the Po Delta reclamation consortium, this will cause “permanent damage”.

“When salt water ends up in groundwater … it takes years and huge amounts of fresh water to get rid of it,” he said, describing the problem as an “environmental problem.”

“The vegetation on the banks of the rivers, the amphibians and the birds have disappeared and the whole ecosystem that lives around a freshwater environment, as we had in this territory, is no longer here,” he says.