South: Counting the cost of climate change

Whatever one’s opinions on climate change or global warming/weirding might be, one observation I have made is that this is the third year in a row we have gone into a long, long spell of wet after a long spell of dry. OK, in 2012 that wet spell started in August and ended the following March, but even the last two winters have proved challenging for anybody on heavy ground.

I have one client who commented that for years they’ve always managed to get winter wheat in after maize, but these days it is becoming increasingly difficult. It would appear that those who are able to get everything done in these conditions are those who, on paper, are over-kitted. The days of many years ago when a five-furrow plough would be followed by a three-metre combination averaging 10–12ha per day now seem impossible to comprehend. People are now looking at being able to cope with 40ha/day or more in order to get everything done in the increasingly narrow window of opportunity we have.

The long wet spells bring other problems too. Under these mild, wet conditions, pre-emergence residuals simply don’t hang around enough to do the job we want them to do. I’m already seeing a re-emergence of grassweeds in situations where the herbicide appeared to have done a good job, with next to no chance of getting back on the ground to follow them up. Oilseed rape and oats hate wet feet and just stop growing, making them vulnerable to anything that might upset them.

So what can we do about it? Unfortunately, whatever we do is going to cost money. Decent machinery is one thing, but investment in maintaining or replacing drainage is often seriously overlooked. Also, a mindset that snatches every opportunity to do stuff when you can, using contractors if necessary, seems to be a winner. With prices where they are, the only way that kind of funding is feasible is if you’re not paying too much for the land in the first place. Now, don’t get me going on rents….

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