Over half of British farmers have been disrupted by severe weather events over the past decade – suggesting climate change is already putting UK food production at risk, the NFU has warned.
A recent survey of 527 farmers in England and Wales found that 57% had been affected by severe weather over the past ten years – mostly flooding or very wet conditions.
Two thirds of farmers said they had noticed an increase in extreme weather consistent with the climate change impacts predicted by scientists, with 60% seeing changes in rainfall and 25% reporting increases in storms, gales and high wind.
Farmers have already been forced to adapt to changing weather conditions, with 14% of livestock farmers reducing stocking levels or increasing winter housing, and 13% of arable farmers changing what they grow or how they grow it.
NFU vice president Guy Smith said the findings were “very worrying” and came as a “stark reminder” that agriculture was on the front line of climate change impacts.
“From time immemorial farmers have always battled with the weather when it comes to producing food, but if climate change projections are correct then this battle is going to get more challenging,” he added.
British Growers Association CEO Jack Ward said fruit and vegetable growers had also raised concerns about the impact of climate change.
He warned the increased volatility of the weather was a particular problem for fruit and vegetable growers, with uncharacteristically cold springs, wet summers and warm winters playing havoc with crops and making it hard to plan ahead.
“The lack of predictability is making life more difficult for growers, who are already working to increasingly tight margins,” he said.
Ward pointed out uncharacteristic weather was also having an impact on consumption of fruit and veg – such as people eating less salads in colder summers – creating an even bigger challenge for retailers and growers.
The NFU said investment in better buildings, better land drainage and better irrigation would help make UK farms more resilient “in the face of tempest, flood and drought”.
But it warned the food chain “must support profitable farming” to enable such adaption, and called on the government to give better support to the sector – both financially and regulatory.
“We want government to work with British farmers to develop an ambitious food and farming strategy, rewarding investment in climate resilience so that we can fulfill our substantial production potential for an increasingly uncertain future,” said Smith.