'I'm trying to balance yields, soil structure, and keeping my soils - my "shop floor” - in my fields' says LNR chair Phil Jarvis
'The sheep are finally back in good order after the winter of 2012/3' says Lancs chair John Taylor
'Can you improve the forecast from 3 days to 2 weeks' asks Dorset farmer Paul Harris
‘Not in four generations had our family seen anything like this’ by Humberside farmer Robert Patchett
'We can cope with one bad year in ten. This decade we’ve already had three serious floods in two years'. Read John Hebditch on the Somerset Levels, flooding and the future.
'One of the toughest times the British sheep industry has known,' by Leigh and Neil at Malham in the Yorkshire Dales.
'To insure, or not to insure', by Nottinghamshire farmer Peter Gadd
'What a difference a year makes', by Welsh hill farmer Gareth Wyn Jones
'Is summer coming early?', from the Met Office Blog
Latest post: 16 March 2015
From: Phil Jarvis, Leics-Northants-Rutland county chair, he talks about managing soil when weather conditions aren’t right:
Not so long ago I rather bravely/foolishly stated that “anyone can direct drill on lighter land”. In my defence, getting no-till right (enough) on our heavy land has been known to cause me a few sleepless nights especially after some of the extreme weather events we’ve had to deal with in recent years.
I know that after a year like 2012, I can’t get the soil right again in one year and I can’t always rely on a great seedbed and good soil structure to get the water out of the fields. Our beans got Fusarium after 5 inches of rain fell in May last year, their roots are sitting in water for too long.
So for us, it’s about hitting the right balance of yields, soil structure, and keeping my soils - my “shop floor” - in my fields. I think I can achieve that balance when conditions aren’t perfect, by not disturbing the topsoil too much but using the equivalent of a low disturbance sward lifter, on arable land,to help the water get away.
2012 also taught me (some) patience. I keep reminding myself that waiting to drill a spring crop after a year like 2012 not only makes sense for the “shop floor” but also for my bank balance as I’m not throwing money at seeds and chemicals that are only going to go backwards or down the drains.
But I’m not giving up. There’s a lot to play for - a more resilient soil with better structure, that’s less trafficked, with higher organic matter levels, a better balance of air and water and more earthworms – but it’s a long road with some unexpected twists and turns.
A long chat with a direct driller on sandy soils helped me see that it isn't as simple as anyone can direct drill on light land" whatever the weather. It's those lucky ones on free-draining loamy soils who have it easy!
Posted January 27 2015
From: Lancashire NFU chairman John Taylor, whose sheep are finally back in good order after the winter of 2012/3
Even though the farm runs up to 1,100 feet, Morecambe Bay keeps us relatively warm. So there is only a little snow on the ground, but it is still early in the winter for us. Strange as it may sound, February is our longest winter month - 'February fill dyke, black or white' as they say round here.
The sheep have not been in such good order since the back end of 2012. We scanned them yesterday and lamb numbers are up 12% on last year. It has taken them until now, helped on by last year's good summer, to bring them round from the 2012/2013 winter.
It’s much easier now to look back. It wasn’t just the extreme snow in March which clobbered us then. It had been a long wet and cold winter off the back of a poor summer and then spring 2013 just didn't turn up either.
It wasn't until mid/ late June that things started to picking up. I can’t remember a time when I have fed the sheep harder and they were still as hungry. They were running on empty. I ran out of forage as usual around the end of April.The first generation cross-breeds saved the day. They stuck it out when the pure-breds and second generation crosses gave up.
At the time everyone just had their heads down trying their best to get through it. It was only in the summer when we had some breathing space that we realised that everyone had been in the same boat. We should have talked to each other earlier and more.
I am working on the theory the spring of 2013 was very much the exception, rather than the rule because I don't know how one can be better prepared for a situation like that. Apart from having the experience of making it out the other end. And I think it's made me a better shepherd. I also found that making use of credit other than that from the bank was a useful tool - as long as the business structure is sound of course.
Posted December 19 2014
From: NFU South West combinable crops vice-chairman Paul Harris
You learn something new every day. Did you know that our Met Office provides the weather forecast for two-thirds of the world’s airlines or that it played a crucial role in the timing of the D-day landings in 1944 and that it is developing a space weather forecasting system because space weather influences technology like GPS which we rely on? I didn’t either until I and my fellow south-west combinable crops board members visited the Met Office last week.
It’s an incredible set-up. From the new supercomputer to the contingency planning like having its current computers in different places (because the weather never stops!) and the number of trained scientists and forecasters, I hadn’t appreciated how fortunate we are to have this facility in this country and in the South West in particular.
We had a good discussion about our sector’s needs of weather forecasting. Getting improvements in the forecast from three days to two weeks was towards the top of the list so we can plan our operations better. And a plea to better recognise those of us struggling to get a decent mobile signal or broadband speed when they’re designing their apps and graphics. The visit has made me look again at what the Met Office offers and I hope that our visit has helped them understand our industry a bit better.
Posted December 5 2014
From: Humberside farmer Robert Patchett looking back at last year's tidal surge
We farmers in the Humber estuary are used to receiving the odd flood alert, but these rarely come to anything. This time last year, the weather forecast in the run up to the 5th December 2013 told a different story. Something out of the ordinary was on the cards. That morning, my brother was on the Environment Agency website, while I was watching and listening to the TV and radio for the latest info. It was BBC Radio Humberside that helped us most as they had reports on the progress of the tidal surge at the most strategic places. That made a real difference to our business and gave us just enough time to react.
It meant that just before the water came flying over the bank we were able to get the cattle into a higher building which we had strawed down the day before just in case. Over 400 acres were underwater within minutes. Not in four generations had our family seen anything like this, not even during the tidal surge of 1953, but in some respects we were very lucky. Our local drainage board’s system (Ouse & Humber IDB) was running well and we hadn’t had any rainfall for a few weeks beforehand, so there was little water coming down from further inland. We were also lucky that it happened at a time when the crops were just going into their winter dormancy period which gave them time to recover before the growing season. We were surprised how well they recovered, apart from two fields and the areas where wreck was deposited. If this had happened outside the winter it would have seen us lose the crop and a similar event in the summer might have wiped us out for two years.
But it has been a lot of extra work. Though we didn’t see it until we had to cultivate, our soil structure has suffered. With the help of the Farm Recovery Fund, we’ve applied gypsum to our fields to combat the salt and done a lot of heavy cultivation to try and restore the soil’s structure, but that won’t be the end of it. So whilst I’ve crossed my fingers (and toes) for this year’s crop, I know that after harvest next year our soils will need more attention. I can see more sub-soiling and cultivations on the cards. We’ve just about finished repairing some of our low lying buildings and farm roads, cleaning out the ditches of all the rubbish the river left behind. Unfortunately some machinery which I thought had survived the worst has since suffered rusted bearings and seized up. In the first few days machinery was down my list of priorities – the stock came first, then we focussed on restoring what drainage we could so the water could get away.
Looking back there are things that I’ve resolved to try and do in the future. Some little things like hanging stuff up or putting stuff on benches rather than leaving it on the floor so that its out of the way. For the longer term, I’ll be thinking carefully about the buildings we have and what we store in them, perhaps raising floor levels. New buildings will need placing on our highest ground. And we will probably try to always have somewhere else lined up where we can take the cattle if we need to.
Posted June 15 2014
From: Somerset mixed arable farmer John Hebditch, who was at the centre of the flooding in the region earlier in the year.
My family’s been farming in the region for about 600 years. We know that when it rains in the upper catchment, it comes down our way very quickly.
We understand that we need to allow some flooding on Curry Moor to protect Taunton and Wellington but that sacrifice shouldn’t and needn’t be long and drawn out or to the depth and extent we saw this winter. If we can accept water quickly onto the moor, it needs to be taken away quickly so our livelihoods and landscape aren’t overly compromised.
It is this balance we have lost in recent years and needs to be returned through dredging and better water level management.
We can cope with one bad year in ten. This decade we’ve already had three serious floods in two years. You’d never guess it, looking around you today. Everything’s greened up or is yellow as creeping buttercup runs amok. But this is no good for cows. In a “normal” year, there’d be 100-150 head of cattle on these fields, today there are only 16.
I’m optimistic that we can get the moors back into good heart; that we can get the moors back supporting grazing in the summer and splash flooding in the winter. We can be resilient by planting the right grass species that will reflect and survive this duality of use.
We want to be as productive as we can whilst also delivering for wading birds, for flood risk and for the local community who walk the droves. All we’re asking for is a chance to get the Levels back into balance.
Posted May 6 2014
From: Leigh and Neil at Malham in the Yorkshire Dales. Follow @hilltopfarmgirl on Twitter.
As lambing time approached last year, we anticipated being able to photograph pictures of healthy lambs dancing in long spring grass. Little did we know we were about to embark on one of the toughest times the British sheep industry has known.
Instead of long grass, we had snow blowing in the wind, and lots of it. Pictures from farmers from all over the British Isles showed sheep lambing into snowdrifts, cows overblown and in one instance in Wales, several fell ponies were lost to the appalling weather. Once again the ‘general public’ were largely sympathetic to the difficulties and Twitter feeds helped to attract the attention of the national press to further highlight the plight faced by farmers.
One year on and we are back to normal with more reliable weather and the usual unpredictable lambs. As we haven’t experienced anything of this magnitude for over 20 years, making strategic long term changes to the way we farm is very difficult. But simple steps such as having stock and enough feed in the right place, should we receive severe weather warnings again, will help.
Sharing experiences, in what would normally be an isolated, solitary situation, is something we don’t do enough of in farming, but there is no doubt that it helped us last year and Twitter is to be encouraged if it can help to alleviate any form of agricultural induced stress.
Get more from Malham by following @hilltopfarmgirl on Twitter.
Posted April 22 2014
From: Nottinghamshire farmer Peter Gadd.
It’s almost May and my crops are about 2.5 – 3 weeks ahead of average. I suspect I’m not alone. I think this is the first year ever that I’ve ever applied a growth regulator both in the autumn and in spring as the oilseed rape is so forward.
I’m pretty sure that it didn’t go into its normal vegetative state over winter as it was so warm and might this be the reason for some of damage we’re now seeing?
Like most of the country we’re now going through a dry spell which will be encouraging our cereals to put down deeper roots. And although my local weather guru tells me that June is looking a little cooler and a little drier on average, keeping my fingers crossed for some rain to keep the crops going after the above average sunlight hours we’ve had since October worked as we had about 10mm over Easter.
We’ve been quite lucky in our little patch of Nottinghamshire (and it’s not only because we’re 10 minutes’ drive from Trent Bridge!). We haven’t suffered severely from the weather as others have done recently, either from the rain this winter or in 2012. We’ve taken out hail insurance for the OSR over the past couple of years.
We’ve felt it’s been too much of a risk not to. But of course it was our wheat that got caught by the hail last summer and we lost about one grain from every ear. At least we didn’t get the fist-sized chunks of ice that landed south of us but I’ll definitely think about insurance again for this year.
Posted April 15 2014
From: Gareth Wyn Jones is a hill farmer in the Carneddau mountains and an NFU Cymru member. He’s also a star of the BBC Two Wales documentary series, The Hill Farm.
What a difference a year makes. Spring 2014 sees me with a smile on my face. The weather’s been great and despite a lot of rain earlier this year which took its toll on the sheep, I swear that they’re smiling too. It’s been warmer than average and I wonder what’s happened to the seasons, or at least what I remember as seasons.
What we seem to get now are blocks of weather – blocks of rain and blocks of sunshine.
When I look back to 12 months ago, it feels like a different life.
I was a different person having to make some really difficult decisions when the snow hit our farm late in March 2013. It’s hard to put into words what it feels like having dug two ewes out of snow drift knowing that you can only carry one of them down the hill.
But I’m glad I did try to put it into words using social media because I found support I never knew existed. Out of tragedy has sprung opportunity – opportunity to share the true life of my farm and my community on the mountain with others.
What last year taught me is that we need to better use the wider community and its services during such emergencies. I was lucky in having health and (relative!) youth on my side with friends by my side. Others were not so lucky. It’s only after the event that I learnt that the local fire brigade might also have been able to help out. Improving the co-ordination across our community and its services might stand us in better stead next time.
Posted April 7 2014
From: The Met Office Blog
Media headlines are already looking ahead to the kind of weather we can expect as we head towards summer in the UK.
Some articles refer to our 3-month outlook for contingency planners to bolster the idea that we could be in for some fine sunny weather, but this is not what our outlook says. Indeed our 3 month outlook doesn’t give any guidance on sunshine hours, and neither does it forecast warm weather of the type reported.
While it does say that above average temperatures are favoured for the UK for Apr-May-Jun, this is only in regards to the UK’s mean temperature – which takes into account both day and night for the whole three months for the whole country. For reference, the top category of above average temperatures in the outlook is about 11C to 13C. So there’s nothing in there about the exact weather we’ll see for those three months.
Similarly, there were no strong rainfall signals for wet or dry in this particular outlook.
Our contingency planner outlooks are experimental and form a part of our research and development. They are complex products based on the likelihood of five different scenarios related to both temperature and rainfall. This can help contingency planners make long-term strategic decisions based on risk exposure, but operational decisions on how to respond to any disruptive weather are based on our five day forecasts and warnings.
Our detailed short range forecasts will always provide the best possible guidance to the public on any periods of cold weather, heavy rain or spells of hot weather, giving detailed local information across the UK.
So those looking for any signs of good weather ahead should keep up to date with our forecasts, which go out to 30-days ahead, for our most detailed and up-to-date view of the UK’s weather.