Farmers facing early harvests as drought bites

The unseasonably warm weather will mean that some crops will begin being harvested weeks ahead of normal as Yorkshire’s farmers look with hope to the skies for rain after enduring one of the driest springs on record.

Some parts of Yorkshire have had 70 per cent less rain than average during the spring with less than 50mm (two inches) falling in some parts.

The lack of rain means that Yorkshire’s vining pea farmers are likely to start their harvests as early as next week, with yields expected to be down as a result of the dryness.

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Meanwhile the region’s large- scale crop producers will be hoping for rain this month as they enter the critical growing period for crops such as wheat and oilseed rape.

The chief executive of the Processors and Growers Association, Salvador Potter, said the weather was the warmest he had seen since the infamously dry 1976.

He added: “We are expecting to see crops being harvested well ahead of schedule.

“It is quite extraordinary. We will now face quite a tight window for harvesting activity.

“There is no question that yields will be down. However, vining peas have held up reasonably well – better than beans, which have suffered.”

Nevertheless he said that the most damage done to crops had not been from the arid conditions but rather from the brief periods of frost seen in early May.

According to data from the Met Office, much of Yorkshire’s farmland received around half of the rainfall it would usually experience over the spring months.

The business manager for soils, crops and water at the Agricultural Development Advisory Service, Neil Pickard, told the Yorkshire Post that farmland across Yorkshire was very dry indeed, adding: “Last week we had two or three inches of rain which helped a little bit but not a lot.

“As each week passes we get more concerned about yield.”

Mr Pickard, based in Wensleydale, said that the lack of rain would affect farmers in different ways, depending on where they lived and what kind of soil types they had. Those with lighter land, with more sandy type soils such as in the Vale of York are currently finding things tough, whereas other parts of the region with heavier soils would retain water more effectively.

Potato growers in particular will be feeling the pressure from the lack of rain, with some having to irrigate their land in order to prevent their crops being negatively affected by conditions like potato scab.

However Mr Pickard said it was also important to bear in mind that global market prices for wheat are currently at very high levels and advised that any farmers who find their yields reduced by the poor weather should still be receiving a decent price at the market place for their crops.

“The key thing is what happens in June,” he said. “If farms are dry in June then this is going to have a significant effect on yields. What comes from now is key.”

He added that the knock-on effect for consumers would be minimal as food prices are affected by a wide variety of factors, particularly those regarding world wide commodity markets.

The real problems for farmers are being seen in East Anglia and further south, where even less rainfall has been seen. Some parts of East Anglia had just 13 per cent of the rainfall they would normally expect to receive.

The matter became of such concern that last month the National Farmers’ Union held talks with the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Meanwhile restrictions imposed on some farmers on environmental schemes are to be eased due to the dry conditions.

Natural England has announced that alterations are to be made to farmers on Environmental Stewardship schemes to allow them to carry out supplementary feeding of livestock if their grass has been seriously affected.