Wet weather is bad news for harvests and livestock alike
Acold, wet March has made it hard to get crops planted and growing, with potential knock-on effects for harvests, farmers have warned.
Difficult conditions have affected the planting and growth of crops from wheat and sugar beet to courgettes and leeks, while livestock farmers have found it too wet to put animals out on grass, the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) said.
Met Office figures showed temperatures were below average in March, which began with the bitterly cold weather and also saw slightly more rain than normal across the UK.
But some places – including Devon, the Midlands and some eastern coastal counties – had more than double the normal amount of rainfall for the month.
There were lower amounts of sunshine than average, with dull conditions over most of England and Wales.
And the start of April saw more of the same, with colder, greyer and wetter conditions than average in parts of the country.
There is now the prospect of warmer, drier conditions, which could help turn things around, but the NFU said it was too early to tell if the forecast good weather would have an impact.
NFU deputy president Guy Smith said farmers were facing a “compressed season”.
“We started March with the various visits of the Beast from the East, which created havoc, then we got a very short window of reprieve, before very wet weather.
“For arable farmers who want to get on the land, they’re delayed in putting seeds in the ground or putting fertiliser on their crops to get things growing.
“It’s in the financial interests of livestock farmers to get them out on to the grass, but it’s too wet underhoof, which adds costs.”
Last year’s wet harvest meant there is also a shortage of straw, further pushing up costs for livestock farmers.
He said farmers had missed out on getting their seed beds in good condition, with time running out to get crops planted, and autumn crops not growing as fast as they would have liked.
Spring wheat, spring barley, sugar beet – which farmers would normally start planting on March 20 – and potatoes are all affected.
And leeks and vegetables like courgettes will be “starting to suffer now if they don’t get up and away”.
“I wouldn’t want to start talking about food prices going up, however if this pattern of weather doesn’t shift for two weeks, we will be seeing an effect on harvest and vegetable crops,” Mr Smith said.
Other crops such as strawberries, which are increasingly grown under cover will be less affected, while fruit trees will soon need some sunshine to blossom properly and get pollinators out on the wing.
And while farmers have always had to contend with the weather, there are concerns that the climate is changing.
“The seasons do seem to be in some way out of sync or out of sorts – the weather seems to get in a rut,” Mr Smith added.
> Farmers are facing a ‘compressed season’ after a wet March