Wildfires blaze on in drought-hit Turkey as criticism grows

By Mehmet Emin Caliskan and Daren Butler

MARMARIS, Turkey (Reuters) – Firefighters using planes and helicopters, and locals with buckets of water, battled wildfires raging for a sixth day near southern resorts in drought-hit Turkey and the government faced fresh criticism of its handling of the disaster.

Seven fires were still burning on Monday, fanned by temperatures above 40 degrees Celsius (104°F), strong winds and low humidity, Forestry Minister Bekir Pakdemirli said.

Huge flames engulfed trees on a hillside near the coastal resort of Marmaris, images filmed by Reuters showed, while drone footage revealed a grey landscape nearby where fires had left smoldering buildings and blackened tree trunks.

While 16 planes and 51 helicopters tackled the blazes across a swathe of southwest Turkey, villagers carrying water containers up a hill to fight a fire near Marmaris said the government was not doing enough to help them.

“We are here as the entire village, from the locals to others. We didn’t run or anything, so the government must see this and also not run away. It must send some of its planes here,” a woman called Gulhan told Reuters.

The heatwave exacerbating the fires comes after months of exceptionally dry weather in Turkey’s southwest, according to maps issued by meteorological authorities.

Data from the European Forest Fire Information Service showed there have been three times as many fires as usual this year, while the 136,000 hectares burnt were almost three times the area burnt on average in an entire year.

Engin Ozkoc, a senior figure in the main opposition CHP, called on Pakdemirli to resign for failing to adequately prepare.

“OUR TURKEY IS STRONG”

“You don’t deserve that ministry. You didn’t foresee this and buy firefighting planes,” he said, criticizing the amount of aerial resources available.

The European Union said it had helped mobilize three fire-fighting planes on Sunday. One from Croatia and two from Spain joined teams from Russia, Iran, Ukraine and Azerbaijan.

President Tayyip Erdogan’s communications director, Fahrettin Altun, rejected criticism of the government’s handling of the fires and condemned a social media campaign calling for foreign help.

“Our Turkey is strong. Our state is standing tall,” Altun said on Twitter, describing most information about the fires on social media as “fake news”. “All our losses will be compensated for.”

Eight people have been killed in the wildfires, but there were no reports of further casualties on Monday.

Since Wednesday, thousands of people have been evacuated from their homes and some tourists have left their hotels, although Tourism Minister Mehmet Ersoy said holidaymakers had returned within hours.

The wildfires are another blow to Turkey’s tourism industry following the COVID-19 pandemic.

Bulent Bulbuloglu, head of the South Aegean Hoteliers Association, said 10% of reservations had been cancelled in Bodrum and Marmaris. Others had cut their visits short.

(Reporting by Mehmet Emin Caliskan, Mert Ozkan and Ceyda Caglayan; Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Dominic Evans and Andrew Heavens)

Freak Brazil frost hits heart of coffee belt, damaging crops

By Nayara Figueiredo and Marcelo Teixeira

SAO PAULO/NEW YORK (Reuters) – An unusual cold snap, with temperatures dropping to freezing levels in a matter of minutes, delivered a blow to the heart of Brazil’s coffee belt, damaging trees and harming prospects for next year’s crop, farmers said on Wednesday.

Agricultural products across the western hemisphere have been beset by unusually bad weather – be it floods or extreme drought – all season. Brazil is the world’s largest coffee producer, as its climate is most conducive for production of the beans. Coffee prices surged nearly 14% in response to the frosts, nearing four-and-a-half year highs.

The sudden frost happened in the morning of July 20. Farmers, brokers and analysts were assessing their crops on Wednesday after reports that the cold snap was much stronger than expected.

“I’ve never seen something like that. We knew it would be cold, we were monitoring, but temperatures suddenly went several degrees down when it was already early morning,” said Mario Alvarenga, a coffee producer with two farms in the southern part of Minas Gerais, Brazil’s largest producing state.

Farmers shared pictures of their crops, where large black areas were visible in places where they should see dark green spots marking coffee trees.

“I will probably have to take out some 80,000 trees, they are burned all the way to the bottom,” said Airton Gonçalves, who farms 100 hectares of coffee in Patrocinio, in the Cerrado region of Minas Gerais.

“I was going to the farm yesterday and a sensor in the truck started to alert me about ice in the road. I thought the system had gone crazy. But when I got to the farm, it was covered in ice, the roofs, the crops.”

According to reports, the frost hit areas all the way from the south to the central parts of Minas Gerais.

Joel de Souza Borges, a coffee broker in Patrocinio, believes that around 50% of farms in the Cerrado region were hit. He said this year’s production will not be harmed, since most areas were already harvested, but production in 2022 is a question mark.

“In some cases the trees recover, you need to cut down some of the branches. In other cases, you have to take the tree out and replant,” he said.

Farmer Gonçalves estimates his production in 2022 will fall from 5,500 bags to around 1,500 bags.

(Reporting by Marcelo Teixeira; editing by David Evans)

Thousands of flamingos die in drought in central Turkey

By Mert Ozkan

ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Thousands of baby flamingos have died at Turkey’s Lake Tuz in the past two weeks from a drought that environmentalists said was the result of climate change and agricultural irrigation methods.

Drone footage of the large saline lake in Turkey’s central province of Konya showed dead flaminglets lying partially buried in dried mud. Lake Tuz is home to a flamingo colony where up to 10,000 flaminglets are born every year.

Turkish Minister of Agriculture and Forestry, Bekir Pakdemirli said around 1,000 birds were thought to have died but denied that agriculture was to blame.

“With less water and increased concentration ratio in the water, we observed deaths of flaminglets that were unable to fly,” he said.

“I want to stress that there is no direct or indirect connection between this incident and the wells in the area or the agricultural irrigation.”

Pakdemirli said “the necessary measures” had been taken, without elaborating.

In 2000, Lake Tuz was declared a specially protected area, a designation that aims to protect biological diversity, natural and cultural resources.

Environmentalists blame farming practices along with climate change for the drought, which saw demand for water in the area outstrip supply by 30 percent last year, according to a report published by Turkish environmental foundation TEMA.

In 2020, the annual water reserve in central province of Konya’s close basin was 4.5 billion cubic meters, while the consumption reached 6.5 billion cubic meters, TEMA found.

Environmentalist and wildlife photographer Fahri Tunc said water supplies from a canal which feeds Lake Tuz were being redirected for farming.

“This is the irrigation canal that comes from Konya. It needs to deliver water to Lake Tuz. As you can see, the water is not coming through. It stopped,” environmentalist and wildlife photographer Fahri Tunc said.

Tunc said only 5,000 eggs had hatched in the colony this year and most of the chicks had died for lack of water on the partially dried lake.

“It is a sin we are all committing,” Tunc said.

President of the Turkish NGO the Nature Association Dicle Tuba Kilic said the only way to prevent mass flamingo deaths is to change the agricultural irrigation methods in region.

Lake Tuz (Salt Lake) is one of the largest hypersaline lakes in the world.

(Writing by Yesim Dikmen; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

‘If you don’t leave, you’re dead:’ Oregon wildfire forces hundreds from homes

By Deborah Bloom and Sergio Olmos

KLAMATH FALLS, Ore. (Reuters) – A growing wildfire in a bone-dry Oregon forest had forced hundreds of people from their homes by Wednesday as it charred more than 200,000 acres (80,940 hectares) and showed no signs of slowing, officials said.

The so-called Bootleg Fire, which has spread through the Fremont-Winema National Forest about 250 miles (400 km) south of Portland since July 6, has destroyed 21 homes and threatened 1,926 more, according to the Northwest Interagency Coordination Center in Portland.

By Wednesday morning, the fire had left a thick haze over nearby Klamath Falls, where the local fairgrounds were turned into a Red Cross evacuation center.

Tim McCarley, one of the evacuees, told Reuters earlier this week that sheriff’s deputies and state troopers showed up at his home just as “sparks and embers were coming down” and told his family “if you don’t leave, you’re dead.”

“This is my first wildfire and I’m going to tell you, it is scary,” another evacuated resident, Sarah Kose, added this week. “You don’t know if you’re going to be the one that loses your house, or you sit there and you watch your neighbor lose their house, and there’s nothing you can do about it.”

The Bootleg Fire is the biggest of several wildfires scorching parts of Western states, where a drought and a recent record-setting heat wave have left brush and timber highly flammable.

So far, it has burned more than 212,000 acres (330 square miles), including about 50,000 acres (20,230 hectares) on Monday alone, and crews have managed to put containment lines around only 5% of it.

In all, 60 large fires have consumed more than 1 million acres (404,680 hectares) across 12 states this season, according to the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, a firefighting group combining eight federal agencies.

Last year, numerous late summer wildfires, fueled by gusty winds and hot, dry terrain, killed more than three dozen people and charred more than 10.2 million acres (4.1 million hectares) in California, Oregon and Washington.

Earlier in the week, flames burning along a high-voltage power corridor connecting Oregon’s electricity grid with California’s affected power supplies, prompting the agency that manages California’s power grid to issue temporary conservation alerts. But as the worst of the heat wave abated, the alerts were withdrawn.

(Reporting by Sergio Olmos in Portland, Oregon and Peter Szekely in New York; Additional reporting by Deborah Bloom and Mathieu Louis-Rolland in Klamath County, Oregon; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

Northern U.S. Plains drought shrivels spring wheat crop to smallest in 33 years, USDA says

By Julie Ingwersen and Karl Plume

CHICAGO (Reuters) – Farmers in the northern U.S. Plains are on track to harvest the smallest spring wheat crop in 33 years, reflecting the impact of severe drought in the key farming region, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) said on Monday.

The shortfall in spring wheat, which typically represents a quarter of total U.S. wheat production, means tighter supplies of the variety used in bread and pizza dough, prized by millers for its quality and high protein content.

Benchmark futures prices on the Minneapolis Grain Exchange surged more than 5% after the USDA slashed its 2021 spring wheat harvest outlook to 345 million bushels, down 41% from a year earlier and the smallest since 1988. Chicago Board of Trade winter wheat contracts followed suit, gaining 3% to 4%.

Soaring U.S. wheat prices will further pinch import-dependent nations that have struggled with food inflation and climbing costs for shipping grain around the world.

A harsh drought in the Canadian Prairies is threatening to pare supplies of the high-protein grain even further. Both nations export the majority of their spring wheat.

“The spring wheat production is a lot weaker than expected and has been heading south. There’s just nothing good to say about this spring wheat crop,” said Jack Scoville, analyst with the Price Futures Group in Chicago.

“Wheat millers are going to pay, and so are we. The good news is that there’s only few cents worth of wheat in each loaf of bread or package of cereal. But even so, it’s going to creep up,” Scoville said.

Spring wheat production losses should be partially offset by a large U.S. winter wheat harvest, but U.S. supplies are still projected at the tightest in eight years, the USDA said.

Late on Monday, the USDA rated just 16% of the U.S. spring wheat crop in good-to-excellent condition, the lowest early-July level since 1988.

(Reporting by Julie Ingwersen and Karl Plume in Chicago; Editing by Alistair Bell)

‘Wither away and die:’ U.S. Pacific Northwest heat wave bakes wheat, fruit crops

By Julie Ingwersen

CHICAGO (Reuters) – An unprecedented heat wave and ongoing drought in the U.S. Pacific Northwest is damaging white wheat coveted by Asian buyers and forcing fruit farm workers to harvest in the middle of the night to salvage crops and avoid deadly heat.

The extreme weather is another blow to farmers who have struggled with labor shortages and higher transportation costs during the pandemic and may further fuel global food inflation.

Cordell Kress, who farms in southeastern Idaho, expects his winter white wheat to produce about half as many bushels per acre as it does in a normal year when he begins to harvest next week, and he has already destroyed some of his withered canola and safflower oilseed crops.

The Pacific Northwest is the only part of the United States that grows soft white wheat used to make sponge cakes and noodles, and farmers were hoping to capitalize on high grain prices. Other countries including Australia and Canada grow white wheat, but the U.S. variety is especially prized by Asian buyers.

“The general mood among farmers in my area is as dire as I’ve ever seen it,” Kress said. “Something about a drought like this just wears on you. You see your blood, sweat and tears just slowly wither away and die.”

U.S. exports of white wheat in the marketing year that ended May 31 reached a 40-year high of 265 million bushels, driven by unprecedented demand from China.

But farmers may not have as much to sell this year.

“The Washington wheat crop is in pretty rough shape right now,” said Clark Neely, a Washington State University agronomist. The U.S. Agriculture Department this week rated 68% of the state’s spring wheat and 36% of its winter wheat in poor or very poor condition. A year ago, just 2% of the state’s winter wheat and 6% of its spring wheat were rated poor to very poor.

On top of the expected yield losses, grain buyers worry about quality. Flour millers turn to Pacific Northwest soft white wheat for its low protein content, which is well-suited for pastries and crackers.

But the drought is shriveling wheat kernels and raising protein levels, making the some of the crop less valuable. “The protein is so high that you can’t use (it) for anything but cattle feed,” Kress said.

Low-protein “soft” wheats have lower gluten content than the “hard” wheats used for bread, producing a less-stretchy dough for delicate cakes and crackers.

The Washington State Agriculture Department said it was still too early to estimate lost revenue from crop damage.

The heat peaked in late June, in the thick of the harvest of cherries. Temperatures reached 118 degrees Fahrenheit (48 Celsius) on June 28 at The Dalles, Oregon, along the Washington border, near the heart of cherry country.

Scientists have said the suffocating heat that killed hundreds of people would have been “virtually impossible” without climate change and such events could become more common.

The National Weather Service posted weekend heat advisories for eastern Washington.

NIGHTTIME CHERRY HARVEST; SUN NETS FOR APPLES

On the hottest days last month, laborers who normally start picking cherries at 4 a.m. began at 1 a.m., armed with headlamps and roving spotlights to beat the daytime heat that threatened their safety and made the fruit too soft to harvest.

The region should still produce a roughly average-sized cherry harvest, but not the bumper crop initially expected, said B.J. Thurlby, president of the Northwest Cherry Growers, a grower-funded trade group representing top cherry producer Washington and other Western states.

“We think we probably lost about 20% of the crop,” Thurlby said, adding that growers simply had to abandon a portion of the heat-damaged cherries in their orchards.

The heat wave’s impact on Washington’s $2 billion apple crop – the state’s most valuable agricultural product – is uncertain, as harvest is at least six weeks away. Apple growers are used to sleepless nights as they respond to springtime frosts, but have little experience with sustained heat in June.

“We really don’t know what the effects are. We just have to ride it out,” said Todd Fryhover, president of the Washington Apple Commission.

Growers have been protecting their orchards with expansive nets that protect fruit against sunburn, and by spraying water vapor above the trees. Apples have stopped growing for the time being, Fryhover said, but it is possible the crop may make up for lost time if weather conditions normalize.

The state wine board in Oregon, known for its Pinot Noir, said the timing of the heat spike may have benefited grapes. Last year, late-summer wildfires and wind storms forced some West Coast vineyards to leave damaged grapes unharvested.

Washington’s wine grapes also seem fine so far, one vineyard manager said. “I think wine grapes are situated well to handle high heat in June,” said Sadie Drury, general manager of North Slope Management.

(Reporting by Julie Ingwersen in Chicago; Editing by Caroline Stauffer and Matthew Lewis)

Biden ups firefighter pay, pushes climate spending as U.S. braces for wildfires

By Jarrett Renshaw and Steve Holland

(Reuters) -U.S. President Joe Biden announced pay raises for federal firefighters on Wednesday and said the United States was behind in its preparations for a potential record number of forest fires this year because of drought and high temperatures.

Biden’s remarks at a virtual meeting with governors of western states sought to show the White House is treating wildfires – which have grown by at least 100 incidents each year since 2015 – are no less a national emergency than hurricanes.

As climate change makes regions like the U.S. western states more arid, wildfires have grown more frequent and ferocious.

At the same time, the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management face staffing shortages accelerated by low pay and competition from state and local fire departments.

Biden said he would raise the pay of federal firefighters to at least $15 an hour and bonuses would be paid for those working on the front lines.

The 15,000 federal firefighters, who battle wildfires on federal land, include thousands of seasonal workers who start at roughly $13 an hour and rely on overtime and hazard pay to make ends meet.

The White House also seeks to convert seasonal firefighting jobs to full-time to meet greater demand.

“Climate change is driving a dangerous confluence of extreme heat and prolonged drought. We’re seeing wildfires of greater intensity that move with more speed,” that last well beyond the traditional months of the fire season, Biden said.

“That’s a problem for all of us.”

Biden and fellow Democrats seek billions of dollars from Congress to blunt climate change.

“The truth is we’re playing catch up. This is an area that has been under-resourced, but that’s going to change if we have anything to do with it,” Biden said.

Some Republicans have played down the severity of climate change, with some branding it a hoax.

A bipartisan infrastructure bill includes nearly $50 billion in drought, wildfire, flood, and multi-hazard resilience programs, the White House said on Wednesday, while Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell upped pressure on fellow Republicans not to back it if it was linked with a second spending measure.

The White House meeting with governors included Republicans and Democrats alike from California, Nevada, Utah, Wyoming and other western states.

(Reporting By Jarrett Renshaw and Steve Holland; additional reporting by Jeff Mason; Editing by Heather Timmons and Howard Goller)

WFP says communities on verge of starvation in Madagascar after drought

NAIROBI (Reuters) – Communities in Madagascar are on the verge of starvation, with women and children walking for hours to reach food after the worst drought in four decades devastated the south of the island, the World Food Program said.

Acute malnutrition has almost doubled over the last four months, the WFP said, with more than a quarter of people suffering in one area.

“I met women and children who were holding on for dear life, they’d walked for hours to get to our food distribution points,” David Beasley, WFP executive director, said in a statement.

“There have been back-to-back droughts in Madagascar which have pushed communities right to the very edge of starvation. Families are suffering and people are already dying from severe hunger,” he added. Beasley blamed climate change for the crisis.

WFP said $78.6 million was needed to fight the crisis.

“Families have been living on raw red cactus fruits, wild leaves and locusts for months now,” Beasley said.

Bole, a mother of three from Ambiriky, in southern Madagascar, who also is caring for two orphans after their mother died, told the agency that to survive they relied on cactus leaves for their meals.

“We have nothing left. Their mother is dead and my husband is dead. What do you want me to say? Our life is all about looking for cactus leaves again and again to survive,” she said.

(Writing by Omar Mohammed; Editing by Alison Williams)

Drought spreads in key U.S. crop states

By Karl Plume

(Reuters) – A harsh drought grew more severe across major parts of the U.S. farm belt this week, threatening recently planted corn, soybean and spring wheat crops in Iowa, Minnesota and the Dakotas, meteorologists and climatologists said on Thursday.

Rains forecast for the northern Midwest and Great Plains this weekend and next week will bring relief to some areas. But the severe moisture deficits suggest crop yields in key U.S. production areas remain at risk.

Drought has already scorched much of the U.S. West, prompting farmers in California to leave fields fallow and triggering water and energy rationing in several states.

Crop development in the central U.S. is highly watched this year as grain and oilseed prices hover around the highest in a nearly a decade and global supplies tighten.

“It’s certainly causing some stress there, especially to the spring wheat,” said Don Keeney, senior agricultural meteorologist with Maxar Technologies.

About 41% of Iowa, the nation’s top corn producer and No. 2 soybean state, was under severe drought as of Tuesday, up from less than 10% a week earlier, according to the weekly U.S. drought monitor published on Thursday.

Cooler weather this weekend and some rain through next week will bring some relief to crops in the western Corn Belt, although far northern areas may see less rain.

“Montana, Nebraska, Minnesota and even northern Iowa would still be a little shortchanged, especially the Dakotas,” Keeney said.

Conditions in North Dakota, the top producer of high-protein spring wheat that is used in bread and pizza dough, remained dire, with about two-thirds of the state under extreme or exceptional drought, the most severe categories.

October to April was the driest stretch in North Dakota history since record keeping began 127 years ago, Gov. Doug Burgum told a town hall meeting in Washburn, North Dakota, on Wednesday.

“We know that we’ve got a full-blown crisis in the state,” Burgum told the meeting.

More than 100,000 acres, or 156 square miles, of North Dakota have already burned in wildfires this year, up from about 12,000 for the entire fire season last year, Burgum said.

Farmer and North Dakota Grain Growers Association Director Cale Neshem called the heat and dryness a “double whammy” that will slash his wheat harvest.

“There’s not going to be much there,” he said.

Drought in the western Corn Belt has already likely trimmed the U.S. corn yield average by 2 to 4 bushels per acre, said Dan Basse, president of AgResource Co in Chicago.

However, conditions in July and August, critical months for corn and soybeans, respectively, will determine the extent of yield losses and the price response, he said.

Grain and soybean futures on the Chicago Board of Trade fell sharply on Thursday as rain in the near-term forecast triggered risk-off selling.

“If we don’t get the rain, it’s going to be something to behold on the upside (for prices) because the yields will fall off the table,” Basse said.

(Reporting by Karl Plume, Tom Polansek and Julie Ingwersen in Chicago; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

‘Big risk’: California farmers hit by drought change planting plans

By Norma Galeana and Christopher Walljasper

FIREBAUGH, Calif. (Reuters) – Joe Del Bosque is leaving a third of his 2,000-acre farm near Firebaugh, California, unseeded this year due to extreme drought. Yet, he hopes to access enough water to produce a marketable melon crop.

Farmers across California say they expect to receive little water from state and federal agencies that regulate the state’s reservoirs and canals, leading many to leave fields barren, plant more drought-tolerant crops or seek new income sources all-together.

“We’re taking a big risk in planting crops and hoping the water gets here in time,” said Del Bosque, 72.

Agriculture is an important part of California’s economy and the state is a top producer of vegetables, berries, nuts and dairy products. The last major drought from 2012 to 2017 reduced irrigation supplies to farmers, forced strict household conservation measures and stoked deadly wildfires.

California farmers are allocated water from the state based on seniority and need, but farmers say water needs of cities and environmental restrictions reduce agricultural access.

Nearly 40% of California’s 24.6 million acres of farmland are irrigated, with crops like almonds and grapes in some regions needing more water to thrive.

“I’m going to be reducing some of our almond acreage. I may be increasing some of our row crops, like tomatoes,” said Stuart Woolf, who operates 30,000 acres, most of it in Western Fresno County. He may fallow 30% of his land.

Del Bosque, who grows melons, asparagus, sweet corn, almonds and cherries, said his operation could lose more than half a million dollars in income, and put many of his 700 workers out of work. He and other farmers say drought has been exacerbated by California’s lack of investment in water storage infrastructure over the last 40 years.

“Fundamentally, a storage project is paid for by the people who want the water,” said Jeanine Jones, drought manager for California’s Department of Water Resources. “All we can do is deliver what mother nature provides.”

New dams face environmental restrictions meant to protect endangered fish and other wildlife, and don’t solve near-term water needs, said Ernest Conant, regional director of the Bureau of Reclamation, California-Great Basin region, the federal agency that overseas dams, canals and water allocations in the Western United States.

“We simply don’t have enough water to supply our agricultural users,” said Conant. “We’re hopeful some water can be moved sooner than October, but there’s no guarantees.”

Water scarcity threatens Del Bosque’s watermelon crop, which is due to be harvested in August. But it also has dire consequences for those planting it.

“If there is no water, there is no work. And for us farm workers, how are we going to support the family?” said 57-year-old Pablo Barrera, who was planting watermelons for Del Bosque.

Woolf said as the state continues to restrict water access, he’s exploring ways to generate income off the land he can no longer irrigate, including installing solar arrays and planting Agave, normally grown in Mexico to make tequila.

“You’ve got to absorb all of your farming costs on the few acres that you’re farming,” he said. “How do we maximize the value of the land that we are not farming?”

(Reporting by Norma Galeana in Firebaugh, California and Christopher Walljasper; Editing by Caroline Stauffer and Diane Craft)