The long run of sunshine and dry days of summer 2018 is impacting smallholders and their livestock and crops

The long run of uninterrupted sunshine and dry days that has characterised the summer of 2018 is already impacting on smallholders and their livestock and crops. Many are reporting water issues, low yields, a lack of grazing for their animals, little likelihood of a second cut after a bumper June/July hay harvest, as well as uncomfortable animals.

“My normally lush fields are now brown wisps of hay and my ewes have had a bad deal this summer,” said Somerset smallholder Melinda Baker, who owns a flock of Black Welsh Mountain sheep. “Lambs are competing with their mothers for any green grass and they are grazing the fields hard while still making demands on their mothers’ milk supply. Water troughs empty daily and the importance of a large tree or a good hedge for shade has never been more vital.”

Melinda is now wondering whether the conditions will impact on her lambs’ growth at weaning, she questions what the overall financial impact will be for farmers and smallholders and adds: “And will our fields be able to recover in time for winter grazing?”

Andrew O’Shea, a Lincolnshire smallholder who farms rare breed pigs and sheep, is expecting a larger than usual water bill. He has spent extra hours pumping water into his pigs’ wallows and filling troughs because his animals are drinking more than usual.

“I’m not a large scale farmer with machinery to do this, so I’m working with buckets and a hose,” he said. “My pigs have also been really lethargic and my sheep aren’t happy either, plus I’m having to feed them straights. I’ve been a smallholder for eight years and I’ve never faced a more challenging summer. The only positive is that I’ve got 600 small bales of hay in the barn, but, on the downside, I don’t think there’s much chance of a second cut because the field still hasn’t recovered.”

Harriet Mullins grows flowers commercially on her North Devon smallholding and she has been spending four hours a day watering her plants.

“We are luckier than some flower growers as we do have water on site. However, the plants are about a month behind and they are not flowering as much as they would be with regular rain. The sunflowers and zinnias are loving it, but I have struggled to keep the flowers fresh when I deliver bunches.”

Alicia Miller and her husband, Nathan Richards, run a horticulture business and a small herd of Highland cows at Troed y Rhiw, a 23-acre organic farm situated in Ceredigion’s coastal belt. In the 10 years that the couple has been farming, they have both seen what they believe to be climate change and have concluded that summers like 2018’s could become a feature of the future. “We’ve certainly seen more weather extremes more frequently over the last five years,” said Alicia. “While the sunshine has been good for the soul — I’m from California, so rainy summers are hard — as it goes on for longer the stress is setting in. Nathan spends most of his days and a good portion of his evenings moving water around and trying to keep plants alive. We’re losing crops. This has been a wake-up call — we need more resilience in our water usage, conserving water in wet periods so that when it’s dry we are better prepared.”

u SHEEP owners are being warned that their flocks could be at a high risk of blowfly strike this summer due to the warm conditions and the presence of the parasite nematodirus. Vets are urging farmers to remain vigilant and to consider preventative treatments.

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