Gloomy and cold spring threatens to dent crop yields

Unseasonably dull and cold weather is threatening to dent yields and increase disease pressure on crops, with growers hoping for a late blast of spring sunshine.

According to the Met Office, the number of sunshine hours from 1 March to 7 May is on average around 20% lower than normal across the UK this year.

Following the driest February in England in 30 years, many regions received above average rainfall over the past two months, giving crops a welcome drink. Growers are now hoping the gloom will lift in May and June to allow crops to fulfil their potential.

See also: Crop Watch: Winter barley races away and late start to maize

Norfolk farm manager Jim Scarratt manages 1,100ha on behalf of EW Porter and Son in Thetford, growing cereals, maize, sugar beet, potatoes, carrots and onions.

“Overall, the cereal crops are looking good at the moment,” he told Farmers Weekly. “We just applied another fungicide and herbicide and they are all responding quite well to the nitrogen and the nutrients.

“We just need a bit more sunshine. May and June are the two months when it could all go wrong. If these two months are dull, yields would plummet. Disease pressure is also a concern. But I’m fairly optimistic it could be quite good.”

Mr Scarratt said prolonged wet weather had already extended sugar beet plantings from two to six weeks. And potato plantings are about two weeks behind schedule. “We have still got a couple of fields to plant, but we have not had to irrigate crops this spring, which has saved us money on electricity for the pumps and overtime,” he added.

Gloucestershire view

Cotswold arable and sheep farm manager Jake Freestone farms 1,565ha at Overbury Farms, covering the Gloucestershire/Worcestershire border.

Mr Freestone said the wet spring has contributed to delays in fieldwork and he is a “long way behind” on fertiliser and spraying applications for arable crops.

“A lot of our wheat is quite short this year. We have not had the growth regulator on it. It has not been very bright and the crop has not grown like a normal spring,” he added.

Some farms were also hit with torrential rainfall over the coronation bank holiday weekend. Richard Bramley, an arable farmer from near York, was one of several farmers who uploaded a video on Twitter showing a deluge on farm. 

Met Office forecaster Stephen Dixon said to date, this spring is duller and cooler than average. From 1 March to 7 May, the UK was at 59% of its average for sunshine hours, when it is normally at 74% of its annual average at this point in the year.

“There is more unsettled weather to come this week. For late May, confidence is low, but the most probable scenario is it is likely to be changeable,” he added.

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