Farmer warns of crop price hike

By Rebecca SheppardA LEADING farmer has warned the prices of some crops could go up because of the lack of rain in East Anglia.Stephen Rash, a farm owner and Suffolk county chairman for the National Farmers' Union, said crops such as oil seed rape, wheat and barley were not having a chance to grow properly in the dry weather, which could create shortages and push prices up.

By Rebecca Sheppard

A LEADING farmer has warned the prices of some crops could go up because of the lack of rain in East Anglia.

Stephen Rash, a farm owner and Suffolk county chairman for the National Farmers' Union, said crops such as oil seed rape, wheat and barley were not having a chance to grow properly in the dry weather, which could create shortages and push prices up.

His warning came as weather forecasters predicted the current dry spell would continue into the weekend with the next shower not expected for at least five days.


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Phil Garner, senior forecaster for Weatherquest, said the last measurable rainfall in East Anglia had been on October 8 when between three and six millimetres of water fell in the north of the region.

“It has been a very dry year. We had a fairly moist spring with close to average rainfall, but there has been an extremely dry summer,” he added.

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“Last summer it was hot at the end of August, but the main part of the summer was very mixed with rainy spells.”

The Met Office said the average rainfall for January to September this year was 337.7mm, compared with 433.4 mm for the same period in 2002.

The summer was particularly dry, with about 20% to 30% of the normal average rainfall and record temperatures.

That has left the ground dry, which has been made worse by easterly winds that have dried out the surface soil so there was no moisture left for plants and crops to grow.

Mr Rash, who owns a 970-acre farm in Wortham, near Diss, said he was having problems with the cultivation of his sugar beet crop as the ground was too hard.

“It was the end of July since we had some real rainfall. Sugar beet and potato harvests have been extremely difficult,” he added.

“I am quite concerned now that the summer crops have not got sufficient moisture to germinate. As there is not sufficient moisture in the soil for them to grow, they will die and the seeds will go mouldy in the ground.

“It is worrying as the autumn is slipping away and the time left to get next years crops into the ground is getting shorter.”

Mr Rash said the knock-on effect of the low rainfall might be felt in the market place.

“There could be problems with wheat, barley and oil seed rape. Normally it is market forces that push prices up, but if there is a shortage, it could possibly mean an increase in prices,” he added.

“Let's just say if it is dry for much longer, then there will be serious repercussions for the crops.”

A spokeswoman for Anglian Water said water reserves were “fine” and what it expected for this time of the year.

“In Alton reservoir in Suffolk the surface water levels are a little lower than average, but this is what we expect from the water stores,” she added.

“They are built so that levels will drop in the summer and then the reservoir will be replenished in the winter. If we had to rely on rainfall, then there would be problems, but they are designed to ensure we don't have to.

“The underwater levels are nice and full from winters three to four years ago. It hasn't given us any huge problems and there was never a concern that we would have to impose a hosepipe ban, which we have not done for about 10 years.”

A spokeswoman for the Environment Agency said it had strategies in place to deal with the lack of rainfall.

“If there is a serious lack of groundwater, we can stop water abstraction, which prevents people taking water out of the rivers, although we have not had to do that,” she added.

The spokeswoman said the agency constantly monitored water levels with electronic equipment and worked closely with the Met Office.

It is launching today a Flood Awareness Campaign to remind people of the risk to their homes if there is a strong, short downpour that could cause flash flooding when the ground is so dry and compacted that it cannot absorb the water.

rebecca.sheppard@eadt.co.uk

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