29 October 1999

Grape harvest on way to Ipswich?

By David Green

EXOTIC crops such as grapes could be grown in East Anglia as farmers adapt their farming practices to global warming, a senior scientist has claimed.

More sunflowers and higher yielding wheats, common to central and southern France and northern Italy, could also be grown, said Phil Jones, acting director of the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia.

If climate change forecasts are accurate, traditional sugar beet and potato crops will move further north to Yorkshire as weather patterns alter over the next century, said Prof Jones. But the availability of water for irrigation over the next 100 years will be key to successful farming in the region which is already the driest in Britain, he added.

The latest forecasts suggest annual temperatures in the UK will rise by 2-3C (4-6F) within 100 years, Prof Jones told an Ipswich conference last weekend. If that is the case, East Anglia is likely to evolve a climate similar to that of central France.

Although temperatures in the region would rise only marginally, a further cut in summer rainfall would bring more droughts. Winters would be wetter and heavier storms would become more common.

"More use will have to be made of underground water resources and more winter rainfall will have to be stored," said Prof Jones, who claimed that more low-lying farmland will be subject to flooding and eventual loss unless defences are bolstered.

About one fifth of the land mass of East Anglia is below sea level, including much of the Fens. MAFF has pledged that areas of low-lying land of little economic value will be considered for a "managed retreat" strategy.