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Planet Ark World Environment News Biofuels Worsen Hungary's Drought, Expert Says

Date: 21-Sep-07
Country: HUNGARY
Author: Andras Gergely

Drought slashed Hungary's maize crop by half this year but
dry weather would have less impact on crops if farmers left the
plants' stalks and straw on the fields as protection from the
sun and evaporation, instead of selling it as biomass.

"There is plenty of biomass out there to burn and lots of
fallow land to grow energy crops," Szent Istvan University
professor Marta Birkas told a farming conference.

"I caution everyone not to sell straw and stalks to power
plants," she said. "The soil needs it as a protection from
drought."

Biofuel makers turn grains and oil seeds into gasoline and
many burn farm byproducts to meet the often high energy needs of
their plants for processes like fermentation.

Biofuels are touted as a way to reduce the emission of
greenhouse gases which contribute to global warming, but Birkas
said biofuel production was now adding to the problems caused by
extreme weather which many blame on climate change.

Wrong farming methods, especially careless ploughing, also
reduces the soil's ability to store water efficiently, she said.

Ministry officials said Hungary would invest heavily in farm
machinery and irrigation to address these problems as drought
was becoming more frequent, hitting the major grain growing
country for the fourth time in 10 years.

"Soil dryness has several causes, both lack of precipitation
and wrong agricultural techniques," Agriculture Minister Jozsef
Graf told Reuters.

Hungary needs to raise its irrigated area by at least
100,000 ha from about 80,000 hay, another official said.

This year's drought is expected to cut the maize crop by
half to 4 million tonnes and Hungary has started buying back
grain left in European Union stores from previous bumper seasons
to sell to animal breeders short of feed.

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