24 March 2000

Future weather to be more hazardous

By Alistair Driver

THE UK will become a hotter, wetter, stormier place to farm over the next few decades as more than two centuries of industrialisation takes its toll on the climate.

This will create new challenges for farmers, warns a new report from MAFF.

The report – Climate Change and Agriculture in the UK – also suggests farmers need to play a role in keeping global warming in check by controlling emissions of the greenhouse gases that cause it.

UK agriculture currently contributes an estimated 4-5% to the UKs carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, one-third of methane emissions and two-thirds of nitrous oxide emissions. Concentrations of the most important greenhouse gas, CO2, will continue to rise, however.

The past decade was the warmest on record for over 300 years and 0.5ûC warmer than the average 1961-90 climate. Temperatures are expected to be 1-2ûC warmer by the 2050s, with winters warming more than summers, the report estimates.

Rainfall levels will also change, with "modest" increases expected.

Speaking at the report launch contributing author Professor Thomas Downing, of Oxford University said: "Conditions in the southern UK may become more suitable for crops such as grain maize and sunflowers. Current crops could be produced further north and at higher altitude."

There will be shorter growing seasons, which will have a detrimental effect on the yield of some crops. This is likely to be offset, however, by the impact of increased CO2 levels in the atmosphere.

Among the threats to farmers will be increased sea levels in low lying areas, heat stress, increased competition for water, faster evolution of weeds and an increased range of native pests and diseases.

But perhaps the biggest threat is the increased risk of extreme and unpredictable climatic events. Extremes of frost, heat, drought, flooding and windstorms, will make growing crops more hazardous. &#42

Sunflowers could be grown further north if global warming continues.