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In southern Italy, increasing attention has been paid in recent weeks to the sky and to the Occhito sul Fortore damn, a strategic reservoir for Italian agriculture, located at the border between Apulia and Molise. The water level in the dam is less than half what it was last year at the same time of year. The winter's droughts may have major repercussions on agriculture in the province of Foggia, particularly for the processing tomato crops.
The importance of this region is obvious by observing a few figures: virtually all of the peeled tomatoes sold in the world come from these crops, which supply one third of the raw materials processed by the Italian tomato industry. In comparison, the Piacenza region produces slightly less than 16% of the Italian total (2017 data provided by the Confagricoltura study center). Southern Italy's tomato industry, from field to final packaging, generates a turnover of close on EUR 1 billion: the economic and social consequences of a bad tomato season could be catastrophic.
On 20 February, Marco Nicastro, the President of the PO Mediterraneo and a member of Confagricoltura, explained that "most growers have ordered their seeds, but no one is reckless enough to start the plant nurseries, because once the seedlings have been set up, they require water, and losses can be very high if there is a water shortage. [...] We are waiting for the situation to change before launching the season in the nurseries."
The consortium that manages the Occhito reservoir dam has declared that it cannot guarantee either the totality of water allocations or the usual duration of the irrigation period, and it has advised growers to take account of the water shortage. For Marco Nicastro, "the problem is mainly an issue for growers" who depend on the dam for irrigation, "and whose income runs the risk of shrinking if there is no compensation plan in place."
Giovanni De Angelis, General Director of the ANICAV, remains optimistic: "We are very vigilant and remain informed on a daily basis of the reservoir situation. But it should be remembered that last year's drought problems in the North of Italy did not prevent a tomato harvest that was even greater than the previous year." Some processors are also counting on the snow and glacier melt from the Apennine Mountains in order to correct the situation in coming weeks.
As for the market situation, the same information sources estimate that "the previous two seasons have been particularly productive", so it is expected that "stocks will be sufficiently large for the industry to bear a drop in production of 30 to 35% in 2018."