BRUSSELS (AP) -- A drought throughout much of northern Europe this spring is starting to hurt upcoming harvests and efforts to bring food prices down.
From beer hops in southern Germany's Bavaria to cereals in eastern England and fodder shortages in many areas, the lack of rain and abundance of sunshine is creating problems for farmers in much of Europe, officials said.
Britain already held a "drought summit" last week to prepare for even worse conditions. Abundant rains in June could still change a lot, forcing the European farmers association COPA-COGECA to hold off on firm predictions. But one thing stands out.
"Whatever happens, yields are likely to be affected," the association's spokeswoman Amanda Cheesley said Friday. If the drought persists "then they would be more badly affected."
France, at the heart of the exceptional dry spell, is already pushing for action to protect farmers.
"Across northern Europe, rainfall has been down 50 percent on normal levels since March," France's Farm Minister Bruno Le Maire wrote in a report to his European Union colleagues. Temperatures were about 4 degrees Celsius higher on average in April. The lack of rain struck particularly early in the year to affect crops.
France expects "a general reduction of yields in several crops and severe difficulties in the animal farming sector, where feed normally stocked for summer has already been used," Le Maire's statement said.
A drop in crop yields would push up prices even though good harvests are expected in major wheat producers Russia and Ukraine that had put in export controls following a serious drought in 2010.
Experts are also concerned over reports of drought in the southern United States while planting in the northern plains is affected by excessive rain. In China, the most severe drought in half a century is worsening.
Food experts had been hoping that EU countries would have a 4-5 percent spike in wheat and barley production this year, but any overall increase won't reach that target because of the drought.
"It would have been a help in bringing prices down faster," FAO economist and grain expert Abdolreza Abbassian told The Associated Press.
World food prices have reached a historic peak this year, raising fears of a repeat of the global food emergency that led to violence and unrest in many countries in 2008.
The Rome-based U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization has said June harvests will be a key in gauging whether prices will calm down or inch up further.
The drought in Europe also comes at a bad time since many national budgets are still stretched by the financial crisis and helping out farmers at short notice does not come easy.
France and Belgium are pushing the European Union to allow for early disbursement of farmers' subsidies to keep them financially afloat during the summer. In northern Belgium's Flanders alone, regional authorities are scrambling to find euro249 million ($355 million) to help farmers with early payments. In the current tight times, it is "an incredibly high amount," said Flanders Minister President Kris Peeters.
Simpson reported from Rome. AP reporter Melissa Eddy contributed from Berlin.