Drought keeps grip on northern England despite showers

Farmers in northern England remain in the grip of one of the driest ever spring and early summer seasons.

Despite occasional rain over the past few days vast areas of hill grazing has been left scorched and bare.

Lowland livestock producers have seen virtually no re-growth on silage fields harvested over a month ago. And although silage quality is expected to be the best for many years, it seems inevitable there will be a shortfall on many farms next winter.

The situation has been worsened by the growing number of dairy farmers being forced to start feeding this year’s silage crop to eke out pastures hit by drought.

“A lot of dairy farmers are under pressure because the re-growth on meadows and pastures just isn’t happening. It’s never an easy decision to start feeding good quality first cut at this stage of the grazing season, but keeping the milk on cows now by supplementary feeding has to be the priority – it’s hard to get it back once it’s gone,” said Ron Cockcroft, JOB of north-west consultants Ontrak Nutrition.

Localised overnight showers in parts of the north in the middle of the week enabled some farmers to hurriedly apply much needed fertiliser to silage ground.

But forecasts of a return to hot dry weather were causing concern, as that could cause heavy losses to newly-germinated brassicas and kale.

The dry spring contributed to the 25% reduction in silage yields most farmers are having to cope with, but there was hope that second cuts would fill clamps already depleted after last winter’s severe weather.

Even in parts of the north west most well-known for growing grass, it’s been one of the most challenging season’s anyone can remember.

In prime grassland areas like the Lune Valley near Lancaster, dairy farmers are struggling to keep fresh grass in front of dairy cows. Brian Kirkby of Park House Farm, Tatham has lived in the area all his life and can never remember the land being so dry.

“We’re strip grazing a herd of spring calving cows and things are really starting to get serious. Although there’s some recovery of the sward, when you get down to it there’s no bulk. We need a lot of rain to get things moving again,” he said.