Dr Nicola Cannon, principal lecturer in Agronomy at the Royal Agricultural University (RAU) has warned that the 2018 heatwave will have long-term consequences for crops and livestock nutrition.
Cannon said farmers were having to reach into their winter reserves of food and forage, and said it was “creating uncertainty about what livestock will eat later in the year”. She also said that because grass and other forage crops have had limited regrowth periods, there is “little available to take subsequent cuts to store for winter feed”.
Arable crops have been reported as being down by 20% on normal yields, but Cannon said fruit and vegetable growers were “really suffering” as the water for irrigation had almost run out. High temperatures also make it difficult to water plants without damaging them.
She also said that while cracked soils could appear “very dramatic” there could be advantages to the dryness as the natural cracking could help break up compacted soils and increase water infiltration and drainage.
She said: “Clay soils are far more prone to cracking than sand or silt and these are the very soils that suffer most of deeper compaction. Farmers often have to try and aid this process of cracking by subsoiling a field to improve drainage.”
Cannon added that the main challenge for UK farmers was knowing what weather was likely to occur in a season.
She said: “In 2017, conditions were very dry throughout April and early May which caused problems with spring sown crops but then it was particularly wet in August. This year has thrown up completely different challenges with extremely cold weather, including the ’beast from the east’ during the first few months and a very late spring.
“Many farmers could not start planting spring crops until early May and from almost this period it has been very dry and hot meaning that growth has been limited.”
“It’s now time to look ahead to the 2019 harvest and the first fields of oilseed rape would normally be planted from 15 August,” she added.
“However, where soils are so dry it can require greater quantities of fuel and power to cultivate the soil and there is such limited moisture in the soil that any seed planted is unlikely to germinate quickly. That means it is more prone to pest problems, often has reduced vigour and uneven establishment – if it can establish at all.”