British farmers set to lose almost £1bn due to wet winter

Image: NFU

The figure has been calculated by the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU) based on key crop prices and data regarding the impact of previous wet winters on harvests.

It represents a 19% drop in revenues for farmers, who have already been struggling due to challenges such as rising energy and fertilizer prices.

The ECIU’s analysis only covered wheat, barley, oats and oilseed, meaning that the impact on farmers as a whole is set to be much higher once other crops and livestock are taken into account.

The think-tank has calculated that wheat farmers are likely to take the biggest revenue hit, at £751m.

The period between October 2022 and March 2024 was officially the wettest 18-month stint on record for the UK.

The UK Government’s climate advisors had previously warned that hotter, wetter conditions in autumn and winter are made more likely due to global heating.

Now, World Weather Attribution researchers have concluded that the wet and stormy weather Britain experienced late last year and early this year was made ten times more likely due to climate change.

Such severe wet weather is now likely to happen at least once every five years and could happen once every three years by the end of the century, the researchers found.

Farmer support

The National Farmers Union (NFU) has this month voiced concerns that the UK Government’s current package of support for the sector will not make a material difference to farmers’ livelihoods in the immediate future. Flooding is a key challenge; polling of Union members revealed that eight in ten have been impacted.

The Union believes that the sector will continue to suffer even with measures announced at a recent Government-convened food security summit, attended by farmers, academics and businesses from across the food value chain.

At the Summit, the Government released a food security index in a draft format. Anger was expressed by green groups as the document described climate change as a “longer-term risk”.

Subsequently, the Government released further details on how farmers can access enhanced rates through its Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) scheme from July.

The expanded SFI offer will reward farmers for taking any combination of 102 actions designed to maintain food production and also improve environmental sustainability.

Additional actions have been included with flood resilience in mind.

The details were provided in tandem with a simplified planning process for farmers wishing to add other facilities to their sites, such as shops. This is intended to help boost incomes.

The ECIU’s land analyst Tom Lancaster said: “There is now an urgent need to move faster to support farmers to become more resilient to weather impacts.

“More regenerative farming is a key part of this, restoring soils to withstand droughts and floods, planting new hedgerows and creating new wetlands to slow and store floodwaters.”

The Nature-Friendly Farming Network’s chief executive Martin Lines added: “The extremely wet winter we’ve had has impacted our ability to plant and look after our crops. Taking advantage of SFI options means we can get support for measures like planting cover crops that mitigate soil loss.

“This gives us the ability to get onto fields earlier and take the wettest areas out of production, turning them into environmental improvement areas, herbal leys, or legume fallows to improve soil condition and make our fields more resilient for the future.”

The UK Government recently tweaked the SFI parameters to stop farmers from taking more than 25% of their land out of production.

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