Suffolk & Essex: Dry weather leaves farmers facing crop disaster

CEREAL farmers across the region are bracing themselves for a thin harvest as the abnormally dry weather threatens disaster for their crops.

The 1mm of rain which fell at the weekend has done nothing to allay the fears of hundreds of farmers in Suffolk and Essex.

The farmers claim the dry spell seen so far this year is virtually “unprecendent” and warn it poses a serious threat to their crops if the coming month does not bring significant downpours.

One of those issuing the warning is Andrew Long, who owns Hall Farm to the north of Bury St Edmunds. Mr Long grows potatoes, onions and cereal crops.

“It is just an unprecedented situation,” he said. “It is affecting the whole of East Anglia. For cereals on light land, if they don’t get a significant amount of rain in the next few weeks there will be a very poor and thin harvest.

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“For the heavier land with lots of clay to the south of Bury - even they are starting to feel it.”

Richard Scott, chairman of the Suffolk National Farmers Union, said he feared unless things changed, the dry weather would have an impact on income for some farms in Suffolk.

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He said: “There have been years when we have had spring droughts before, but I don’t recall anything quite as dry as this. It’s a pretty crucial time right now.”

Mr Scott said farmers faced paying out more on their “input costs” – such as pesticides and fertilisers – and with higher fuel costs things could become even tougher.

He added: “If we had a whole lot of rain it could all sort itself out. If it (the dry weather) carries on for another fortnight then we could lose yield. The only thing we can do is monitor our input costs. We don’t quite know what the effect of this is going to be.”

Throughout March and April just a fraction of the expected rainfall has been recorded and experts fear this may continue well into May.

Jim Bacon, a forecaster with Weatherquest, said he expected the conditions to remain “challenging” for farmers, with little or no rain expected this week.

He said: “It’s very much a long shot at the moment. Apart from some isolated showers, for the rest of the week there’s not much chance of it.

“It’s been extremely dry. We do get years like this occasionally, but March was the driest for about 100 years and it may well be that April similarly under-performs.

“What we need is active weather fronts with warm, moist air to come in from the Atlantic, but at the moment that doesn’t look likely to happen before the end of this week.”

Suffolk Coastal MP Therese Coffey raised the plight of Suffolk’s farmers in Parliament during a recent Prime Ministers Questions. She said farmers were suffering during the drought and asked for a meeting on the subject.

Mr Cameron agreed to discuss the problems faced by farmers because of particularly dry weather in recent weeks.

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