Rain clouds storm field

Source: Unsplash

An increase in extreme weather means farmers are constantly battling to protect crops and maintain soil quality 

The UK is bracing itself for what could be one of the worst storms to hit the country in 30 years, following a rare red weather warning from the Met Office.

The potential impact of this extreme weather on our farming industry and food production is enormous, with winds potentially reaching 100mph and heavy rain and snowfall predicted.

Unfortunately for our farming community, extreme weather is becoming increasingly common due to climate change. That means a constant battle to protect crops and maintain soil quality while maximising harvesting productivity – all while navigating increasing food supply pressures and wider economic and political challenges.

Climate change is already impacting our agriculture industry. Soil erosion, which can seriously affect farming productivity, has become a major issue here in the UK, with traditional agricultural practices a major contributor to this. Degraded land is less able to retain water and increases the risk of flooding when heavy rainfall occurs due to greater surface run-off, and the government’s UK Food Security Report 2021 highlights just how much the soil has already degraded across the south and east of England, with the Midlands, East Anglia and the Yorkshire coastline considered to be most at risk next. Despite the preventative methods the agriculture industry is putting in place, we must start to consider other crop production methods to guarantee food security.

Heavy rain isn’t the only climate risk facing the sector. In fact, Scotland experienced the opposite issue in 2018, 2020 and 2021 with water scarcity, causing a knock-on impact to a number of industries including farming and whisky production.

Some of these issues can be mitigated by vertical farming. These systems also require neither arable land nor soil and, crucially, mean that crop production isn’t dictated by adverse weather conditions. In a vertical farming environment, up to 97% of the water is recycled and rainwater harvesting can also be easily integrated, something we at IGS do within our own Crop Research Centre, based just outside Dundee in Scotland. 

It’s by no means a replacement for traditional farming, but it does have clear, complementary benefits and creates a profitable, sustainable, and flexible solution for indoor growers globally. Traditional farming will – and indeed should – always have a place in our agriculture industry, and there is still a long way to go in terms of the types of crops and seedlings that can be grown in a vertical farm environment. However, advancements are being made every day. Popular herbs and leafy greens can all be reliably and profitably grown today in these controlled environments, and it won’t be long until other types of fruit and vegetables will follow suit.

While we can hope this weekend’s weather causes minimal disruption to our agriculture industry, we cannot ignore the effects climate-related extreme weather conditions are having on our crops and food production. It is time for us to reimagine the future of farming.