Adapting to climate change a challenge for UK farmers

19-05-2021 | |
Photo: Canva
Photo: Canva

According to a new study by the University of Exeter, although extreme weather is harming UK agriculture many farmers have not yet made adapting to the effects of the climate emergency a priority.

All farmers who took part in the research by the University of Exeter said they had experienced or witnessed issues caused by extreme weather such as heavy rain or prolonged dry spells in recent years, and expected these to intensify further.

Impact of heat and drought on crop and grass growth

Many were concerned about the impact of heat and drought on crop and grass growth, with knock-on impacts for yield and winter animal feed, and the implications of heavy rainfall/flooding for soil run-off and erosion and for field operations such as drilling and harvesting.

For a number of farmers, however, ongoing and future changes to our weather and climate were seen as too uncertain and too long-term for them to invest significant time or money in planning for them now.

Short-term profitability and business survival

The study shows many farmers are focused on short-term profitability and business survival in a challenging economic environment, as well as concerned about other political and public pressures. Although there is a growing acceptance that the climate is changing and that there are benefits to taking action, uncertainties about the exact scale, speed and nature of change locally, make it difficult for farmers to plan ahead.

Capacity for innovation and adaptability

The research also highlighted the capacity for innovation and adaptability within the farming industry. Many farmers are building resilience within their business through actions to improve soil health, which as well as raising productivity and storing carbon, also increases the ability for grass and crops to cope with weather extremes.

There is also reason for farmers to be optimistic about some of the opportunities posed by climate change, such as warmer temperatures enabling new crops and increased yields in some instances, – as long as they are able to ‘weather’ the challenges posed by negative effects.

Improving soil health

As well as improving soil health, positive actions taken by farmers in the research to future-proof their business included continuous evaluation of crop/grass varieties and growing techniques, installing additional livestock housing with good ventilation, increasing rainwater storage capacity, and risk-spreading through expanding the diversity of their crops and enterprises.

Also read: Overcoming drought with new technology

Hugo Claver Web editor for Future Farming