Rain ‘too late’ to save crops from failure

East of England growers fear recent rain may have come too late to save crops threatened with failure by persistent dry weather.

While the Bank Holiday was good for tourists, with temperatures reaching 25C in places, it was less good for farmers. And despite rain in some areas over recent days, the prospect is for higher temperatures and drier weather returning.

Farmers Weekly columnist and blogger David Richardson said 30mm of rain in a week had perked up sugar beet and winter wheat, which now looked reasonable, if a little late. But spring oil seed rape remained a concern.

“We had tickled the top and drilled the spring crop fairly shallowly into moist soil. But, as I feared, the long, dry spell that followed was too much for it to survive, especially on heavy land where the tilth was cobbly.”

The spring rape was drilled after a winter crop failed. Although it germinated, many seeds then died for lack of moisture. A quarter of the spring rape remained thin and would now clearly never make a full crop, said Mr Richardson.

“That’s two partial crop failures on the same land in the same year. And its no consolation to me that other farmers of my acquaintance, in the Fens and in north Norfolk, have had even less rain than we have so have even greater crop failures.”

Forecasters expect warm temperatures over coming days, with largely dry and sunny conditions. The forecast is for more unsettled weather during the first few days of June, with showers or longer outbreaks of rain.

But the Met Office said a repeat of the wet summers of 2007 and 2008 remained unlikely. Rainfall was likely to be near or below average for the UK, while temperatures were likely to be above average.

Chief meteorologist Ewen McCallum said: “After two disappointingly wet summers, the signs are much more promising this year. We can expect times when temperatures will be above 30°C – something we hardly saw at all last year.”

Although the forecast is for a drier and warmer summer than average, Mr McCallum said he did not rule out the chances of some heavy downpours at times. But the next few months were “odds on for a barbecue summer”.

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