Our survey says: Weather volatility threatens British food production

Seasons, tree in spring summer autumn winter, weat

As the Paris Climate Conference today hosts its ‘Farmers’ Day’, a new survey from the NFU has highlighted the damage that severe weather events have inflicted upon agriculture during the past decade.

The survey has revealed that two-thirds of farmers have noticed an increase in extreme weather, consistent with the climate change impacts predicted by scientists. The majority of NFU member surveyed have seen changes in rainfall patterns and more flooding, with 25% also observing an increase in storms, gales or high winds. However, some farmers actually reported less severe weather, with 10% saying that winters had generally had becoming milder.

See our infographic of the survey results here.

NFU Vice President Guy Smith said: “It is very worrying that nearly 60% of farm businesses have actually been affected by severe weather events in the last 10 years. This news comes as a stark reminder that agriculture is on the front line of climate change impacts.

“These statistics show the financial and emotional cost that changing weather patterns are having on our members and it reinforces the need for some of our key 2015 election manifesto asks to be met”.

During the last election the NFU set the incoming government several challenges which included:

  • Increased investment in UK-relevant agri-science including development and approval of biotechnology through to commercialisation.
  • Fiscal incentives that enable farm businesses to manage volatility and promote capital investment.

Weather survey - opens up a larger picture

Earlier this year, the NFU successfully argued that farmers’ taxable profit averaging should be extended from two to five years to help our members manage the impact of volatility. But more needs to be done.

Mr Smith added: “From time immemorial farmers have always battled with the weather when it comes to producing food, but if climate change projections are correct then this battle is going to get more challenging. Investment in better buildings, better land drainage and better irrigation can make farms more resilient in the face of tempest, flood and drought. But the food chain must support profitable farming in order to enable such agricultural adaptation, backed by Government setting the right regulatory regime – such as allowing farmers access to water so they are prepared for times of drought.

“This survey shows that our members are altering what they do in response to the changes in the weather and longer-term climate that they are experiencing. However we’re moving into uncharted climatic territory. This is why we want Government to work with British farmers to develop an ambitious food and farming strategy, rewarding investment in climate resilience so that we can fulfill our substantial production potential for an increasingly uncertain future.”

Survey findings...

Farmers observing a change in weather patterns over the past 10 years:

  • Almost 2/3rds have noticed an increase in severe events over the last 10 years
    • the majority of these seeing a change in rainfall and more flooding
    • a quarter noticed an increase in storminess and wind speed
  • 10% have seen winters becoming milder
  • of those noticing a gradual change over the past 10 years, almost 10% have seen a change in local biodiversity.

Changes which farmers have made to their farm business practice in response:

  • Of those who have noticed a gradual change
    • 14% of livestock farmers have altered practice either by reducing stocking levels and/or increasing winter housing
    • 11% have changed drilling/harvesting timings
    • 8% have changed crops grown or seeds used
  • Over 40% have changed practice in response to a severe weather event but responses are similar to gradual change
    • 13% changing cropping or nutrient management practices
    • 9% upgrading buildings and infrastructure.


Actual impact on farm businesses:

  • Over half of farm businesses have been affected by at least one severe event in the last deacde
  • Over 2/3rds of these affected by flooding or very wet conditions
  • 10% suffered infrastructure damage.

What do they need to be better prepared?

  • Other effective options include those actions to manage too much rain e.g. improving field drains, and too little (rainwater harvesting and tax breaks for reservoirs)
  • the need for research into breeding more resilient crops and breeds.

Last edited on: 02:12:2015

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