It’s been such a long time coming. The effect is so dramatic, that I must express my pure unadulterated joy at the arrival of the high pressure and east winds which have settled on the British Isles following a bout of unpredictable weather. It seems the last time we had dry weather and intense sunshine of anything like this duration was early September.
Since then, it has hardly stopped raining long enough for the land to even begin to dry out. When we get east winds like this, west is often best. It has recently been blessed with some of the highest levels of sunshine in the country. It’s always a cause for great celebration when we get better weather than London!
Like many other farmers, we were feeling increasingly desperate as our slurry lagoon and manure heaps neared overflowing point, our hedges couldn’t be trimmed due to wet field margins and spring ploughing for our 2013 oats and pea livestock feed crop was completely out of the question, as were plans for maintenance of our field drainage systems.
All this has been completely transformed with a couple of weeks’ dry weather. As I write, the farm yard manure is being spread on our cereal stubble, we are cleaning ditches, organising hedge cutting and the whole landscape is breathing out as the saturated fields gradually dry out.
Working in the fields, becomes an intoxicating experience due to the light intensity and the subtle but exquisite aromas which emanate from the soil and the vegetation as they dry in the spring sun. I’m sure scientists could describe the composition of these ‘volatile compounds’ but they definitely induce a natural high!
Not withstanding my current state of elation, I am nevertheless convinced that farmers will have to plan for more extreme weather events by ensuring that they take advantage of every ‘weather window’ and improve their management of water, whether their problem is too little or too much.
One of our key challenges is to improve nutrient cycling which we are doing by doubling our manure storage capacity. Today, we have had a visit by a consultant who is helping us put together a manure management improvement plan, which will include a large new lagoon, new roofs covering our manure heaps, slurry lagoons and much more. Luckily, we should benefit from a capital grant available through Glastir, Wales’ new environmental improvement scheme for farms.
As global weather extremes become the norm and we watch climate change take hold, what the next year might have in store is cause for anxiety. The UK is generally predicted to become warmer and wetter with climate change, although as we experienced last year there were also extremes of drought, so we may need to prepare for both.
In the end it all comes down to the need for every individual farmer and grower to improve the resilience of their food production systems in order to cope with future shocks. Using an analogy I have drawn on before, of likening food systems to a vast organism that is entirely dependent on the health and vitality of its component parts – i.e. the individual farm – then it makes absolute sense to prepare for the future by ensuring that come the flood or the drought, each of us is able to maintain a reliable supply of key staple foods to feed the wider community in the uncertain times that lie ahead.
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