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Hail, Floods and High Winds Threaten Italian Crops

While most Americans are aware of the deadly wildfires scorching California, hail, floods, thunder storms and powerful winds are wreaking havoc on Italian crops, including wine grapes. In some cases, yields have been affected by up to 70%.

“Hail is the damage that farmers fear the most in this season because it makes irreparable damages, destroying the work of the whole year,” says Roberto Paravidino, chairman of Coldiretti, a farmers’ union in Italy. Meanwhile, he noted, the heavy rains did nothing to help drought conditions, but the downpours instead caused landslides.

This June, Italy saw 124% more rain than the historical average. It also seems that it will be the third hottest June since 1800, experts say.

Coldiretti estimates that Mother Nature has caused more than 500 million euros in damages to all crops including grapes, olives and cereals this year.

Where the damage is

Stevie Kim, managing director of Vinitaly International, says the affected areas “include some parts of Piedmont, Emilia-Romagna, Lombardy, and Veneto… So far, most producers that I’ve spoken to seem to be cautiously optimistic.”

Elio Filippino has 10 hectares (25 acres) of vineyards surrounding Neive, in the heart of Piedmont, where he produces Barbaresco and Barolo wines. He says he learned his lesson in April 2017 when hail storms battered his vines.

“I learned the secrets of the vineyards from my father, Domenico Filippino. He used to tell me that in the fields, you are exposed to this huge risk, as the fruits grow under the sky, not under a roof,” says Filippino. As a result, he installed anti-hail wires, and this year he was better able to resist the harsh hail storms that have hammered the region this summer.

Overall last year, Italian vintners saw their yields plunge about 30%.

Fellow Barolo producer Anna Abbona of Marchesi di Barolo says “[…]despite the heavy rains and some hail[…]unfortunately hitting the area, we are so far in a good place. Especially the vineyards, which are in the commune of Barolo[…]are looking vigorous.”

“We are doing our best to preserve this good quality of grapes and vineyards, and keeping our fingers crossed for the weeks to come before the harvest,” she says.

Damage in Sicily 

Heavy rains, hail, thunderstorms and strong winds have afflicted Sicily as well.

Federico Lombardo di Monte Iato of Firriato wine estates, which has vineyards on the slopes of Mount Etna in the east of Sicily all the way to the hills of Trapani in the west, didn’t directly address any problems the weather has caused. Instead, he explains how he was applying “all the practices of precision viticulture to continue to ensure high-quality wines despite the changes in climates.”

In particular, he notes that among the techniques he is using, one is minimal tillage. “We work the soil as little as possible, to minimize soil erosion…”

No rains are in the forecast this week for Italy, but temperatures are expected to be between 90–100° F degrees in parts of the country.