Farmers facing ruin in drought

FARMERS in Suffolk are praying for rain today as a three-month drought threatens to ruin their crops and livelihoods.

Simon Tomlinson

FARMERS in Suffolk are praying for rain today as a three-month drought threatens to ruin their crops and livelihoods.

The dry spell - which included one of the sunniest Aprils on record - has also seen a drop in plant sales as gardeners hold out for more fruitful weather.

Meanwhile, firefighters have been out in force urging people to be vigilant against the threat of heathland and grass blazes.

John Collen, chairman of the Suffolk National Farmers' Union, said crops had been seriously affected by the shortage of rainfall.

“The spring crops are suffering very badly,” he said.

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“Some farmers have winter reservoirs which mean they are able to irrigate at this time of year, but they are very expensive to install.

“Most are relying on the almighty above to supply a plentiful rainfall.”

Steve Goodwin, general manager of the Wyevale Garden Centre in Woodbridge, said turnover among his bedding and hardy nursery plants had fallen 20 per cent in the last two weeks.

Weather experts said the lack of rain has just been the luck of the draw and not down to any one phenomenon.

Jim Bacon, managing director of WeatherQuest, said: “This time of year is normally punctuated with showery conditions but this year we haven't that trickle-charge of rain.

“It is not anything dramatically unusual. It's just a mixture of air flows and fronts that combine so that any rain we have had has been patchy.”

Rain is expected next week, but the Met Office believes the dry conditions could continue into the summer months.

Stark safety warnings have also been issued after two hectares of gorse and wildlife were devastated by a massive blaze - thought to be started deliberately by youths - in Martlesham on Wednesday night.

Fire crews have already been dispatched to more than 100 similar incidents this year, prompting fears that the summer months could see a repeat of 2006 when the fire service was overwhelmed by the volume of call-outs.

Ipswich district commander Geoff Pyke said Wednesday's blaze could have had more serious consequences and urged the public to act responsibly.

Meanwhile, Wednesday's blaze, which could be seen from Felixstowe, has devastated the plethora of wildlife which would have inhabited the area affected.

David Mason, of the Suffolk Wildlife Trust, said a number of birds' nests, snakes and lizards would have been destroyed.

He said: “It couldn't happen at a worst time when species are emerging and becoming very active.”

The last significant rainfall in the county came on February 9 when there was 20 hours of rain giving a total of 1.12 inches.

April was also one of the sunniest ever with about 200 hours of sunshine.

There was only half an inch of rain in April, which has an average of 1.68 inches.

Wednesday had brought the warmest weather of the year so far, with temperatures reaching 68F/20C - well above average.

SOURCE: East Anglian Daily Times weatherman Ken Blowers