Pressure is mounting on farmers across Yorkshire’s rural heartlands as some parts of the county try to cope with the aftermath of nearly a month’s rain falling over the Easter period.
Farmland had already been drenched by the so-called Beast from the East, when some farmers reported the worst snow drifts for decades, but the unrelenting wet conditions that have last since then have led to livestock losses, dwindling feed supplies and crops beginning to rot in the ground.
According to the Met Office, average total rainfall for the month of March across the whole of Yorkshire is 69.9mm. Yet over the four-day Easter period, 62.2mm of rain was recorded at Flyingdales on the North York Moors, 55.4mm at Pateley Bridge on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales, 41mm at Bramham near Leeds and 38.8mm at High Mowthorpe near Malton.
The regional branch of the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) said the prolonged cold and wet weather means all sectors of the industry are now feeling the pressure.
A spokesperson for the branch said some farmers had reported the wettest spring in many years, with one farmer based in the Vale of York saying it was the worst they had experienced in 25 years.
Sheep farmers are facing “very difficult conditions” both those who are lambing indoors and outside, the NFU said. In some cases, because of limited space indoors, those who are lambing inside are being forced to turn out ewes and lambs even though the conditions mean there is no grass available for them to graze on.
Fodder is already in scarce supply after a poor summer for silage last year, and the pressure on supplies is affecting beef and dairy farmers too, the NFU said, many of whom are also having to keep cattle inside for longer.
Winter crops are struggling, with farmers unable to take machinery onto sodden land to apply fertilisers or sprays to help turn them around, while spring crops have either not been sown or they have been sown in cold, wet soil which means they will struggle to germinate.
The lifting of root crops is proving “very challenging” too, the union said, because farmers’ access to crops was limited.
The NFU’s national livestock board chairman Richard Findlay, who farms near Whitby on the North York Moors, said: “We are just about coping. We have a lot of sheep and lambs that we are desperate to turn out but we daren’t because of the cold and wet. We would lose too many.
“We’re choc-a-block with newborn lambs and we are spending somewhere between £500 and £1,000 a week on feed to keep them all inside and keep them going. I feel for the farmers who haven’t been able to keep them back and have suffered losses.”
“It’s part of the industry and everybody will be facing some serious pressure in this weather. We are into April and hundreds of thousands of acres haven’t been sown. Grass growth is so late. Dairy cows will be going out onto the fields late.
“Everything has been hammered by this weather and a lot of credit has to go to people for just keeping on going. The resilience of the farming community under these conditions is an absolute credit.”