UK farms should learn to deal with weather extremes

After the exceptionally dry spring and hot summer had already hit cereal yields, East Anglian growers struggled with potato harvesting and wheat planting during heavy autumn rains that came down during a critical period in the farming calendar. Many parts of the UK received their average October rainfall within the first two weeks of a month which also included the wettest day on record for UK-wide rainfall, on October 3rd.

Tim Sisson, managing director of drainage specialists William Morfoot, base at Shipdham near Dereham, said the cumulative totals were a “near carbon copy” of rainfall events during the same period in autumn 2019, which also bogged down harvesting and drilling operations at this crucial time of year.”

“A lot of growers have commented that the autumn of 2020 has produced worse conditions than 2019 in terms of the volume and frequency of the rainfall,” he told “This year, many crops which have been drilled have seen seeds literally rot in the ground owing to saturated soils. Pressures from weeds which thrive in the wet cool conditions have become more pronounced. This is especially true of blackgrass which thrives in saturated wet soils.”

“Many farms have not invested in land drainage since grant aid was abolished for land drainage in 1981. This means that there are a lot of very tired and old drainage schemes out in the fields at present which are no longer working effectively. Ageing drainage systems, the removal of BPS (Basic Payment Scheme subsidies from the EU), the increase in rainfall, and the timing of the rainfall events have all meant that land drainage as a tool to improve margins on progressive arable farms has never been more important.

Tom Dye, managing director of Albanwise Farming, said it had become increasingly important to allow saturated soils to recover more rapidly, increasing the working window for arable operations and improving the yield potential of the crop: “The ‘new norm’ is that the climate has changed,” he said. “Over the 13 years I have been farming in north Norfolk the management decisions a farm manager has to take are much greater, and the working windows are definitely narrower now because of the climate. Now you may only have two or three days to drill a field, and if you are waiting for the field to drain of water you have missed the chance to establish the crop in ideal conditions.”



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