With Greece’s sun and sand and great weather bringing record numbers of tourists, and people relocating to live in the country, some extreme weather since 2011 hasn’t been all peaches-and-cream for farmers, costing them 1.1 billion euros ($1.1 billion) in losses.
In the hills of northern Greece, peach farmer Makis Antoniadis said it has been so bad that he might have to give it up, fearing this year’s crop could be his last.
“I’m thinking about growing something else,” said the 56-year-old, who has followed in his father’s and grandfather’s footsteps in the fruit orchards of Kopanos. “Others in the village are looking to do the same,” he told the financial news agency Bloomberg in a feature.
The farmers have been caught in a crossfire as well between the United States and European Union over President Donald Trump’s erratic trade wars and said they are feeling the effect of climate change that deniers said isn’t happening.
Over the last eight years, Greek authorities have recorded crop damage from extreme weather events over more than 3.8 million acres, with agricultural insurers also blaming climate change as the reason, the report said.
Trump’s tariffs on the EU including Greek canned peaches, the country supplying much of the world with that treat, were imposed in retaliation for unlawful aid to airplane manufacturer Airbus, the chief rival to the United States’ Boeing.
Antoniadis said freak weather conditions worry him more than the effect of U.S. levies.
“The consequences of climate change are more significant and painful than Trump’s tariffs as we are already suffering from disastrous production in the last three years,” he told Bloomberg.
“In the last few years, we’ve had unseasonal rainfall in June and July followed by ups and downs in the temperature with the result we’ve lost a large part of our production,” he said as the weather in Greece deep into November reached 70 degrees and more.
In 2017 and 2018, nearly all of his crop was ruined as the large volume of water leads to the fruit’s skin splitting and the fluctuation in temperature rots the peaches.
“We never saw such weather conditions in the past, now it rains non-stop for three days then four months go by before it rains again,” he said.
Kyriakos Tsitouridis, the head of the Meteorological Research Center of the Greek Agricultural Insurance Organization (ELGA), told the news agency that farmers will have to switch to “crops that can survive in extreme weather conditions.”
He predicted an increase in average temperatures and rainfall and warned of catastrophic consequences for agricultural production. The government must act to ensure there are no shortages, he said.
The number of acres of crops damaged by weather events was almost 685,000 in 2017, more than three times the level in 2011, ELGA data show. The insurance payout increased to over 165 million euros [$182 million] from 52 million euros [$57.3 million].
The total value of the damage is even higher, as the ELGA only covers the cost of the direct impact from weather and not indirect effects, such as crop disease, said Fanis Kourebes, the organization’s chairman.
He cited a flare-up of diseases affecting grapes in the southern Peloponnese region and peaches and tobacco in northern Greece, where Antoniadis has his farm. At least for the time being. “We can’t control this and we can’t always be compensated forever,” Antoniadis said.
That echoed a report by Reuters earlier which said that Greece, the world’s biggest exporter of canned peaches, with 20 percent of its 250,000 tons annual production absorbed by the U.S. market, will see tariffs rise on the goods from 18 to 43%, making them too costly.
“Trump would do well to behave himself and let us get to work so we can have a livelihood,” peach farmer Tasos Halkidis told the news agency. “We don’t want this tariff business.”
Kostas Apostolou, head of the Greek Canners Association, said the dispute is threatening their livelihood and will potentially shut them out of their biggest market, jeopardizing their future.
Many US customers, mostly catering companies that supply hospitals, schools and the military, have either canceled orders or have said they will not be prepared to pay for any tariff increase, producers said.
“Suddenly there was this (trade) war… We could never imagine that this could affect our jobs here in this small area,” Apostolou said.
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