András Eördögh looks with emotion at his dozen or so foals as the animals happily jump and kick up the dust in the farmer’s yard. The soft-spoken, 66-year-old man, who often teaches local children to ride horses, muses that he has never faced such a drought, even though he has been farming for about 30 years. Now you will probably have to sell the animals because you won’t be able to feed them. He breeds horses and cows on 150 hectares, and grows wheat and vegetables.
This area, the Homokhátság between the Tisza and the Danube, is an important agricultural area, where corn, wheat and sunflowers are mostly sown. 550-600 millimeters of precipitation usually falls annually. However, according to the National Meteorological Service, only 120-150 millimeters of rain fell in the first half of 2022.
Another farmer, Ferenc Szepe, is currently looking at his checkered notebook, in which he always records the number of rainy days, and says:
Many people have given up animal husbandry due to increasingly difficult conditions. I want to breed horses, not camels!
Everything is bone dry.
According to the report of the Ministry of Agriculture, Hungarian farmers have reported an unprecedented drought affecting an area of about 550,000 hectares. Climate change affects almost the entire Hungarian agricultural area, but the Sand Ridge is particularly vulnerable, says Károly Bartha, a researcher at the University of Szeged. He adds that the Sand Ridge is higher than the level of the Danube and the Tisza, and its sandy soil dries out much faster.
The lake in Jászszentlászló, where older locals learned to swim as children, dried up years ago.
Five years ago, the mayor of Jászszentlászló and two other settlements teamed up with some farmers. The hundreds of kilometers of canal system that entangles the region through and through were closed in sections to capture the ever-dwindling amount of rainwater. The canals were built during socialism, primarily to drain the watery parts of the region, thus increasing the size of the agricultural land.
Although the plan violates a law passed a long time ago, according to which the canals must be kept free to drain excess water into the Danube or the Tisza, the authorities tacitly support the idea of the cooperative farmers.
However, this year saw the completion of their project. The winter and spring passed almost without precipitation, and at Jászszentlászló there was only water left in one channel, which had also evaporated by May. 2019 was the last year when the canals were filled with water for the last time, and in the three years since then the situation has only worsened, which was culminated by this summer’s heat wave.
István Láng, the director general of the National Directorate General of Water Affairs, said back in March that the government will allocate HUF 200 billion over the next eight years to save the Sandhills from complete drying out. According to him, 10 percent of this work has already been completed. However, local farmers are confused and claim that no one informed them about these plans, and that they only know what they know from the press.
27-year-old Gergely Lajkó does not complain, but rather looks for a solution, although he is also looking forward to the rain. He moved back to Jászszentlászló with his wife three years ago, where they bought a farm and three horses. They had planned to start expanding their small business this year and raise sheep, pigs and chickens, but the hellish drought put a stop to their plans.
Maybe we should look into what to do. What grows in the desert? Do we breed Arabian thoroughbreds? Or take out? Maybe camels?
– the young farmer lists the strange possibilities bitterly.
Children participating in the horse camp play in the lake of András Eördögh’s horse breeding farm near Jászszentlászló – July 15, 2022. (Photo: Marton Monus / Reuters)
The 66-year-old breeder András Eördögh among his horses in Jászszentandras – July 21, 2022. (Photo: Marton Monus / Reuters)
Farmer Ferenc Szepe writes down the number of rainy days in Jászszentlászló in his notebook by hand – June 1, 2022. (Photo: Marton Monus / Reuters)
Ferenc Szepe feeds his dog on his farm near Jászszentlászló – February 1, 2022. (Photo: Marton Monus / Reuters)
Dry drainage channel in Jászszentlászló – February 1, 2022. (Photo: Marton Monus / Reuters)
Ferenc Szepe and his wife watch as they try to pump groundwater to fill a drying lake near Jászszentlászló – February 1, 2022. (Photo: Marton Monus / Reuters)
Ferenc Szepe walks along the bed of a dried-up lake, where the locals learned to swim long ago – February 1, 2022. (Photo: Marton Monus / Reuters)
A lone water meter stands on the bed of the dried Kondor lake near Kerekegyháza – July 21, 2022. (Photo: Marton Monus / Reuters)
Csaba Toldi, the head of the local “rescuemen”, inspects a temporary dam at Jászszentlászló – July 21, 2022. (Photo: Marton Monus / Reuters)
A firefighter fights the flames in the border of Algyő – July 14, 2022. (Photo: Marton Monus / Reuters)
Locals try to put out the forest fire on the border of Kecskemét – July 14, 2022. (Photo: Marton Monus / Reuters)
A firefighter looks at the burning forest on the border of Kecskemét – July 14, 2022. (Photo: Marton Monus / Reuters)
Farmer Tibor László refuels his combine near Szank – July 15, 2022. (Photo: Marton Monus / Reuters)
Gergely Lajkó watering his horses on his farm near Jászszentlászló – July 21, 2022. (Photo: Marton Monus / Reuters)
Cattle skulls at the entrance to András Eördögh’s ranch near Jászszentlászló – July 15, 2022. (Photo: Marton Monus / Reuters)
Horses graze on the border of Jászszentlászló – July 15, 2022. (Photo: Marton Monus / Reuters)
Light shines from the windows of Ferenc Szepe’s house near Jászszentlászló – February 1, 2022. (Photo: Marton Monus / Reuters)