Farmers Weekly 80th birthday: Prepare for climate change on your farm

Making your farm more weather-resilient makes good business sense. But with more volatile and extreme weather predicted, it becomes essential to short and long-term success.

So what are the threats your farm is likely to have to contend with? What doors may open with new opportunities?

See also: FW 80th birthday: Farming for climate change

And most importantly, what can you do to protect your farm business and exploit new avenues?

The following information was collated with the help of:

  • Lorraine Hutt, senior advisor for agriculture and forestry for the Climate Ready Programme, Environment Agency
  • Cerys Jones, climate change advisor, NFU
    80th birthday logoCelebrating 80 years
    of farming excellence
    Farmers Weekly: 1934-2014
  • Dr John Conway, director of research, Royal Agricultural University
  • Prof John Turner, emeritus professor, University of East Anglia

Information was also taken from:

  • UK Government Adaptation Sub-Committee
  • Farming Futures


Arable and horticulture



How a climate-ready farm might cope

• Erratic rainfall, with less in summer and more in winter.

• Plant stress from more frequent and extended droughts and heatwaves.

• Crop damage from intense storms and flooding.

• Establishment problems due to wetter soils and waterlogging, and soil erosion due to flooding

• Increasingly volatile global grain markets.

• New pests, diseases and increased weeds, which stressed plants may be more susceptible to.

• Water supply-demand imbalance due to increased needs from agriculture in summer and a growing UK population.

• Cereal crop cultivation moves further north in England.

• Land loss from coastal erosion.

• Increased costs for improving cooling, wind- and floodproofing abilities of existing crop storage buildings.

• New crop varieties to overcome challenges such as drought.

• Alternative (and niche) crops such as olives, peaches, sunflowers, apricots, soya beans, maize as grain crop, durum wheat, millet,sorghum, chickpea, grapes and other oilseed and starch crops.

• Earlier harvests/longer growing seasons for some crops.

• More favourable conditions in UK than in other countries.

• Better growth further north than at present – Scotland may improve considerably.

• Generally warmer temperatures encourage productivity (all other things being equal).

• UK may be well placed to take advantage of higher prices and wider potential markets due to global crop shortages.

• Home-grown markets could become more important in the face of volatile global supply and food insecurity.

• Certain land management techniques – buffer strips, wetland creation, shelter belts – may create financial rewards.

• Make a risk assessment of your farm and business – have long- and short-term contingency plans.

• Improve organic matter to make soils more resilient to erosion and drought. Use buffer strips, drainage ditches, ponds or wetlands toincrease infiltration rates.

• Reduce risk of flooding – plough across slopes if possible and use cover crops to reduce soil exposure.

• Collaborate with other farmers to build reservoirs and invest in irrigation to collect and store rainwater for times of shortage.

• Investigate drought- and heat-resistant crop varieties.

• Speak to supply chains about potential timing changes and agree an action plan.

• Investigate local water availability.

• Repair leaks, join or initiate an abstractor group to share knowledge and liaise with regulator.

• Spray crops at night.

• Plant shade/shelter belts for crops to protect against high temperatures.

• Ensure buildings are maintained and prepared for more extreme weather.


Sheep, beef and dairy



How a climate-ready farm might cope

• Heat stress may change animals’ feed intake, reduce reproduction and milk yields.

• Less stable spring/summer grass supply due to drought, heat stress, wet, or flooding leading to compromised winter forage.

• More frequent and severe storms affecting upland pastures and cutting livestock off from food.

• Insufficient access to drinking water during droughts.

• Exotic diseases from increased global trade, higher temperatures and greater health risk from flooded pastures.

• Inability of livestock buildings to cope – need for more cooling, heating, wind- and flood-proofing.

• Increasingly volatile cost of feed.

• Stock maintenance issues, such as housing during extreme weather.

• Increased need to buy-in supplemental feed and silage.

• Warmer conditions improve grass in uplands and create greater opportunities at higher altitudes and further north.

• Longer grazing seasons could increase productivity and reduce feed costs.

• Agriculture expands to higher altitudes than currently possible.

• Longer grazing seasons could increase productivity and reduce feed costs.

• Bigger range of forage opportunities – chicory, lucerne, red clover and maize.

• Possibilities of introducing new livestock species more suited to, for instance, warmer conditions.

• Make a farm risk assessment. Have long- and short-term contingency plans for different weather scenarios.

• Align grass cutting or grazing regime with seasonal shifts.

• Investigate grass and forage varieties that can cope with climate changes and establish diverse species pasture more resilient to grazingpressure and conditions.

• Assess at-risk land and move livestock to higher ground when flooding is expected.

• Improve drainage and incorporate buffer strips, drainage ditches, ponds or wetlands to increase soil infiltration.

• Ensure buildings are prepared for more extreme weather, installing, for example, cooling in dairy parlours.

• Collect and store rainwater.

• Use hedgerows and trees for shelter/shade.

• Tighten biosecurity.

• Potentially alter lambing and calving in line with grass growth.

• Consider replacing livestock breeds with ones better suited to conditions.

• Closely observe emergence of new pests, diseases and weeds.

• Propose alternative supply agreements with water company should mains water be unavailable.

• Consider a contingency plan for milk storage and transport; seek advice from insurance company.

• Ensure plenty of drinking water and sufficient airflow in buildings to prevent heat stress.


Pigs and poultry



How a climate-ready farm might cope

• Risk of heat stress in intensive indoor units, leading to lower productivity including feeding and fertility problems.

• Increasingly volatile cost of feed.

• Exotic diseases from increased global trade, higher temperatures and increased health risk from flooded buildings and land.

• Inability of livestock buildings to cope with weather extremes – increased costs for cooling, heating, wind- and floodproofing.

• Use of excess heat in sheds to power renewable energy production.

• Increased possibility of introducing new species or varieties.

• Make a risk assessment of your farm and business – plan for coping in different weather scenarios.

• Manage housing and transportation to maintain optimal temperatures and cope with weather extremes. Consider investment in insulation,ventilation and climate-control systems.

• Ensure plenty of drinking water, create shade areas and enable sufficient airflow indoors to prevent heat stress.

• Assess at-risk land; outdoor pigs and poultry should be moved to higher ground when floods are expected.

• Have a contingency plan for livestock sheds at risk of flooding.

• Keep biosecurity tight.

See more