Climate change and environmental pressures are likely to force major changes to farming practices in the east of England within five years.

Some 46% of eastern region producers believe they will have to make significant changes to their farming practices before 2010, according to the ADAS Farmers’ Voice Report 2005, a national annual survey of over 1000 farmers.

Similarly, 41% of farmers in the region said they feel poorly informed about the effects of climate change.

Farmers are also unclear about the possible impact of new environmental legislation, such as the Water Framework Directive.

ADAS eastern regional director Colin Speller said: “Climate change and the WFD will affect all individuals in some way, but it’s clear that farmers feel as though they are very much in the dark about its impact upon their business.”

Extreme weather conditions have already prompted some East Anglia producers to adapt their farming practices.

New measures include revised cropping patterns and new crop varieties.

Norfolk farmer Robert Salmon usually produces hay for the equestrian market.

For the first time this year, however, unsettled weather forced him make haylage.

“We realised we would never get the hay dry,” said Mr Salmon, who farms at Hyde Hall, Great Fransham.

But Mr Salmon is unsure he will make haylage again.

“It’s perhaps too early to say whether I am converted.

I have a loyalty to my hay customers, but I expect next year’s weather will make the decision for me,” he said.

Other farmers are less fortunate.

The government has warned that climate change will lead to an increased risk of flooding and coastal erosion in the eastern region and some producers are already experiencing losing their land.

Whatever the cause, the survey suggests that eastern farmers might be ahead of the game.

Climate change is most likely to affect farming in the south east region, where only 16% of farmers have changed their practices as a result of recent extremes.

While 29% of respondents conceded that agriculture was responsible for most of the nitrates reaching water courses, 51% of the region’s farmers said schemes designed to reduce levels of diffuse pollution were prohibitively expensive.

fwnews@rbi.co.uk