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Some UK farmers face risk of potential summer drought

The last 6 months have been unprecedented with many weather records broken. Since those records began never has the UK climate been quite so extreme. From the wet weather last year in October and November, then floods and the wettest February on record, we have now found ourselves in drought conditions pre-summer. It has even been the sunniest May on record to boot!

The impact upon farming has been vast. For arable producers across England, and particularly the South East there are significant areas uncropped. Where land was too wet to establish in the autumn some effort has been made to sow spring crops. However, in many cases, due to the sudden shift in weather extremes the crops have not grown as they have literally run out of moisture, with no rainfall at all in most places for the whole of April and May. Otherwise, the ground has baked in the sun to such an extent the decision was made that it wasn’t economic to grow a crop at all. It being impossible to make a seedbed.

Ed Davey, Account Executive from our Lincoln branch who is also a farmer shared his concerns.

He said: “We’ve had a bit of rain in April and May which was very localised. It just kept things going. Yet neighbours a few miles down the road missed the lot. I walked the farm over the weekend and whilst better than some, in almost every field one can see the impact of the ongoing dry weather. Late established winter crops have suffered at the hands of the dry spring, whilst spring crops have struggled to grow away with any vigour. Across our patch, there are acres of wheat, barely a foot high with an ear poking out. To a degree, a change in the weather could still give us something to play for, but for many the die is cast and yields are already determined by the weather we’ve experienced. In the scheme of things I think we are one of the lucky ones as, although yields are going to be compromised, we have a crop. Many I have spoken to have uncropped sections of the farm, bare fields or sub optimal spring crops, many re-drilled and an ever decreasing margin of opportunity.”

“My estimate is that yields could be as much as 30% down in our neck of the woods and it is likely harvest will be very early unless the weather breaks now. This could then lead to a lot of nitrogen not yet taken up feeding into the crop and giving it a second late push. I have held conversations with farming clients over the last few weeks, some with almost no prospects regardless of market prices rising off the back of lower yields. Even if prices begin to reflect the predicted EU supply shortfall, the gross return is not going to be sufficient for many who will have little or in some cases, nothing to sell off significant areas of land.”

In addition, it is not just about arable, as the livestock sector has long been suffering pressure in the marketplace with prices for lamb and fat cattle compromised by lockdown. Based upon how poorly first cut silage, hay and haylage has yielded to date, there are going to be issues moving forward in either having enough winter fodder, farms being able to afford it where stocks are short or even running out of  summer grass unless it rains. With winter forage and straw costs potentially back to 2018 levels, there are under insurance issues to consider, stack limits to check and no doubt fire claims forthcoming. Certainly a lot of unhappy livestock producers wondering what the next hit is going to be.

Ed continues, “As fires are already breaking out across the moors of Lancashire I’m afraid 2018 is almost upon us again. It now all swings on the position of the jet stream, which for 2 months has been very high and well to the North. If the jet stream sinks south in July pre-harvest, and we are deluged with rain, multiply all of the problems above. That this “perfect storm” is happening amidst Brexit and the reform of the Agriculture Bill, will hopefully give you an insight into where our farming client’s heads are right now."

Farmer’s bottom lines are about securing their livelihoods and consequently as they have little control over their income this year, they need to focus upon and manage their costs, including insurance. Ed explains, “Insurers have taken some hits in recent years and their rates are hardening as a result. We consequently have an uphill battle and timing couldn’t be worse for the farming industry. We need to work with the insurers to do everything possible to build in protection for our clients businesses and still help them obtain the best deal possible. Mitigating risk and obtaining good advice will be even more essential as we steer a course through this extraordinary year.”

Despite whatever hardship the farming sector suffers, and whilst there is not a lot we can do about the weather, at Marsh Commercial we are totally committed to supporting our farming industry through uncertain times – protecting land, property, livestock, livelihoods and loved ones

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