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The impact of the 2018 UK heatwave on British farming

As the weather turns a touch colder and the rain returns, many of us might be missing the glorious sunshine of the UK summer heatwave.

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The impact of the 2018 UK heatwave on farming

Some businesses have also enjoyed a boost from the weather, with retailers witnessing the largest revenue rise in four years, with a 4 per cent rise compared to June 2017.


Of course, the ice cream business has done very well from it, with a 24 per cent increase in sales.


But for some, the heatwave was a nightmare for their livelihoods — farmers have struggled with everything from burnt fields under the scorching sun to droughts putting livestock at risk.


Just how far has the damage spread, and how long will the effects last?


Impact on crops


Crops need a few things to survive, from space for their roots and some mulch, to water and sunshine.


The latter two are certainly vital. Obviously, too little is a bad thing, but too much of a good thing can be harmful too! Unfortunately, our farmers’ crops have suffered from both: too little rain, and too much sunshine.


The Guardian outlined a number of crops that have struggled from the overbearing heat and lack of water, including:

  • Onions
  • Lettuces
  • Carrots
  • Potatoes

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Overall yields have dropped around 20%, with onions particularly hit by a 50% decrease in their usual yield. Potatoes struggled with the dry weather, with a yield around 30% lower than average.


The crops that have been harvested and survived the long summer are proving to be smaller than usual too.


In a continued ripple effect, the smaller-sized crops will impact our dinner plates, with the British-loved staple of oven chips set to be 3cm shorter due to the far-reaching summer sun disrupting both British and Belgian crops.


According to data from Farming UK, wheat prices soared in the middle of the year.


From suffering through the cold spell of the Beast from the East earlier in the year, to the summer scorcher, the fluctuating extremes have taken their toll on crops. As a result, food prices are expected to rise by 5%, which will be filtered through to customer’s weekly shopping costs.


The severe dry spell also impacted the rate of grass growth. According to GrassCheck, grass growth rates plummeted during June, dipping well below the 10-year average growth during June/July/August.


Impact on livestock


Of course, the uncharacteristic heat of this past summer hasn’t gone unnoticed by our livestock either.


Farmers turned to traditional methods to keep their cows cool, such as using old, stone barns that circulate air and keep the inside of the structure shady and cool.

But keeping cool is only the beginning of the problem. Under the scorching sun, many cows lose their appetite and won’t self-feed as they normally would.


This led to many farmers needing to encourage their cattle to feed by bringing food to them, and with the grass wilted for so long, the food used was intended for winter feed.


This combination of using up food stocks intended for the winter, plus the longer winter conditions before the heatwave hit, means that many farmers are faced with the prospect of having to sell their animals. It has been predicted that next year’s breeding stock will be impacted, and milk yields could fall 15 to 20 per cent.


Benefits to the warmer weather


It’s not all bad news on the farming front mind. Yes, the potatoes suffered, and the leeks are looking a little smaller than usual, but some crops have flourished in the summer sun.


In particular, the harvest for apples on farms has been notably great this year. Without the threat of any frost to kill off the apple blossoms, the fruit has grown exceptionally well this year.


While apples out in people’s back gardens might be smaller, the irrigation systems in orchards mean the apples have had the perfect amount of sun and water, and no frost to contend with.


Plus, the warmer weather in June to August has seen the flavours of the apple boosted, making for some incredible cider. Cider makers have commented that juice yields are up this year, and the natural sugars within the apples have increased too.


Meat sales have also enjoyed a small boost over the sparkling summer. Between the unexpectedly splendid weather and the gloriously unexpected performance of England in the World Cup this year, burgers and sausages sales were up 14.4 and 5.1 per cent respectively.

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