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Heat Wave, Drought Dry France’s Mushrooms

September 10, 2003

GRENOBLE, France (AP) _ France’s withering heat wave and drought this summer are also wreaking havoc below the ground: Mushroom pickers say they’re coming out of the woods empty-handed.

Many mushroom festivals scheduled for September have been canceled after fungi experts blamed high temperatures and lack of moisture for their failure to find the usual wide variety of mushrooms.

The problem is most acute in the south, where September is normally the peak of the mushroom season.

``There is practically nothing,″ said Louis Gilli, secretary of the Federation of Mediterranean Mycologist Societies, though he held out hope that a sudden patch of rainy weather could salvage the season.

Record-high temperatures this summer baked much of Europe, fanned forest fires and dried out large swaths of land. While vintners say this year’s wines could be exquisite, other crops have suffered.

Like wine and cheese, mushrooms are dear to French hearts. There are untold hundreds of varieties featured in regional cooking, and there is even a Mushroom Museum in Saumur in western France.

The fungi crop in the eastern part of the country was also hit. All the mushroom festivals there in September have been canceled, though the biggest of the season _ which normally displays up to 400 varieties of mushroom _ was still on for October.

Mushroom fans were still clinging to hope in the north, where the season doesn’t start in earnest until the beginning of October. Some, however, remained pessimistic.

``It’s still a little early, but it didn’t rain at all this summer,″ mused Paul Gibon of the Federation of Mycologists of the North.

Though the jury is still out on France’s famed truffle crop, which won’t be harvested until December and January, Gilli said he expected that fungus to be affected as well.

``There won’t be many of them this year,″ he said.

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