FARMING MATTERS: Lack of rain means difficulties for crops

Writing about the weather is tricky because whatever it is doing right now, it could be different by the time you read this.

Saturday, 20th May 2017, 7:00 am
Measuring the rainfall - or lack of it. Picture Heather Jan Brunt

However, what is undisputed is that we have had a very long dry spell and that does have consequences.

It’s lovely of course for barbecues, days out and enjoying time in the garden. But it creates difficulties for farmers trying to grow crops to feed us.

Met Office figures reveal April was the 10th driest on record and experts are predicting the dry spell may continue for several months.

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My husband has a rain gauge in the garden and keeps rainfall figures. His records show that we had 4.25 millimetres of rainfall during April this year.

This is in contrast to April 2016 when we had 39.5 millimetres. Clearly this is a huge difference, and previous figures show rainfall of 24.5 millimetres in April 2015 and 27.5 millimetres in April 2014.

Fortunately most of our crops this year were planted last autumn and so they are fairly well established and there was enough moisture over the winter to get them started. But they still require ongoing rain and they are starting to look a bit dry.

For farmers who planted crops during the spring, the outlook is worse, as many cereals are planted only half an inch deep and with no rainfall they will have had difficulty getting established. We planted one crop in the spring, but that was beans and is planted much deeper, four inches, and so goes into moist ground.

The difference in the type of land matters too. We are on heavy clay, but high up on chalk hills the soil will dry out even more quickly.

We also require the grass to grow of course, in order to feed the cattle and sheep during the summer, and to make hay and silage for the winter feed.

If we end up having to turn the livestock into fields earmarked for hay and silage, then we may have to buy in winter feed from areas of the country that have not suffered drought conditions.