Unsettled weather sparks farmers’ hopes after lack of rain

Forecasts for unsettled weather during the remainder of May could ease mounting pressure on rain-starved crops and grassland following a desperately dry winter and spring.

Below-average precipitation is considered more likely over the next fortnight, suggests a Met Office outlook. But any rain will be welcome with unsettled weather forecast for next week.

The UK saw just 47% of the average April rainfall, according to Met Office figures. Middlesex, Mid Lothian and Fife were the driest counties, it said, with just 12% of the rainfall expected during the month.

See also: 9 farming tweets that show the impact of dry weather

More than four-fifths of the country’s rivers have fallen to abnormally low levels after one of the driest winters ever recorded.

Longer range forecasts suggest the mild, dry weather is set to continue, especially in the south of England. But the North West is expected to become wetter.

Kent grower Charles Tassell said below-average rainfall for the past nine months on his farm had included the driest December on record.

“Cool weather has eased the pressure on water resources, but the situation could change very rapidly with a heatwave,” he warned.

Delayed turnout

In Scotland, Fife dairy, sheep and arable farmer James Telfer said lack of grass meant turnout had been delayed.

“Wheat is going off in some fields and spring barley is patchy,” he said. “We’ve held off irrigating because we have no equipment – it’s a desperate situation.”

The worst-affected farms appear to be on the eastern side of the country. Just 36% of long-term average rainfall has been recorded during the first four months of 2017 at the Elveden Estate in Norfolk.

But growers as far west as Herefordshire are suffering too.

While there are currently no environmental or water supply issues, the NFU said it was working closely with the Environment Agency, public water supply companies, Defra and the Met Office to assess the situation as the dry spell continues.

NFU vice-president Guy Smith said decent rains in May and June could put many crops back on track. “Growers are looking at the ‘changeable’ forecast for the end of this week, hoping it brings much-needed rain.”

Fears for fruit and veg sector

The NFU was increasingly concerned about the fruit and vegetable sector, but reservoirs were full and abstracted water sources still available, albeit at lower than normal levels, said Mr Smith. But the livestock sector had been hit by a shortage of grass.

In Devon, organic dairy farmer Roger Lee said first-cut silage was going to plan at Dowrich Farm, near Crediton.

But anything that was north facing or had had sheep on it over winter had not grown, while 8ha of spring peas and barley for ensiling had not germinated properly.

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