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Record winter temperatures spark debate about impact of climate change on UK ag

Record winter temperatures have sparked debate about the impact of climate change on UK agriculture and what farmers can do to mitigate it.

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As the mercury climbed to a record breaking 21degC in London on Tuesday and with rivers and watercourses at much lower levels than average, producers have been urged to plan for more extreme weather events.

 

The tinderbox conditions were highlighted at a Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust meeting in Parliament this week, just before wildfires broke out in Saddleworth, Greater Manchester, Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh and the Dublin Mountains.

 

Simon Thorp, chairman of the England and Wales Wildfire Forum, said as the climate warmed, the UK could expect to see devastating events, such as the wildfire which tore through Portugal’s Pedrogao Grande region in 2017.

 

NFU national water resources specialist Paul Hammett said the industry was watching to see what impact the dry winter would have on livestock farms and combinable crops.


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The balmy temperatures have allowed growers to get on with fieldwork but the lack of rain could cause issues with crop establishment.

 

“With rivers below average levels and lots of farm reservoirs not full, we are getting increasingly concerned about the 2019 season,” said Mr Hammett, highlighting East Anglia and the Midlands as particular problem areas.

 

“What we are telling farmers who abstract water is to check their conditions of licence and to make sure their daily limits are what they need to be.”

 

The Environment Agency said it would consider applications to extend the water filling period if reservoirs were not full by the end of March.

 

Essex arable farmer and NFU deputy president Guy Smith added: “Some of us remember our fathers talking about the drought in 1976 and that year came on the back of a dry 1975.

 

“We could argue that if the rainfall patterns we have seen at the start of 2019 continue, coming off the back of a dry 2018, then it is very ominous.”

 

And for livestock farmers there is some concern about grass availability, given how dry 2018 was.

 

With conserved forage stocks already depleted for many, livestock farmers will be thinking about turnout and first cut silage, and hoping for some rain to help with grass growth during the all-important spring months.

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