February 23, 2018
Northern Farming Conference Addresses Major Weather and Brexit Uncertainties
British growers need to plan for an even more variable weather than predicted by man-made climate change as we enter a new period of declining solar activity, warns meteorologist and BBC Yorkshire and Lincolnshire climate correspondent, Paul Hudson.
Speaking to more than 250 farmers and advisers at the seventh Agrii Northern Farming Conference at Bishop Burton, he explained that the latest models predict solar activity will fall significantly as we move towards 2030 in a long-term cycle which could bring about conditions last seen during the ‘little ice age’ of the mid-1600s.
“We are entering a new phase in the bicentennial solar cycle which has produced particular periods of UK climate extremes in the past,” pointed out Paul Hudson. “The mid-1600s, for instance, saw winters that were often very harsh, together with extended periods of hot, dry weather as the jet stream became more meandering.
“On its own this would suggest much more climatic variability. When combined with the extra variability we know goes hand-in-hand with man-made climate change, it means we need to be prepared for very much greater weather uncertainty in the years ahead.”
While Mr Hudson does not necessarily anticipate either consistently colder or warmer years as these two climate influences coincide, he does expect far more extreme weather conditions in the seasons ahead.
In particular, he noted that winter rainfall has risen by 25-30% in some parts of the country in recent years, while observing that August is fast becoming the wettest month of the year for many.
“If the jet stream gets stuck we could be in for significant periods of drought too,” he added. “And, we will almost certainly see more intense rainfall in many places, courtesy of a greater number and frequency of storms.”
This will clearly put the premium on systems of crop and livestock production that are sufficiently resilient on the one hand and flexible on the other.
Building greater resilience and flexibility into UK farming is also a particular imperative as far as Brexit is concerned, the conference agreed following an update from AHDB market intelligence manager, David Eudall.
Although exactly how our exit from the European Union will affect British farming remains unclear, he insisted that the AHDB’s most recent Horizon report on Brexit Scenarios shows that every sector of the industry needs to be prepared for considerable change.
“In modelling three possible Brexits from free trade business as usual with Europe at one end of the spectrum to World Trade Organisation rules at the other, we found the effect on different sectors very much depends upon their trade balance,” he explained.
“Regardless of the scenario, net importing sectors like pigs are likely to fare relatively well while net exporting sectors like cereals will almost certainly face much greater challenges; especially so in a future of significant tariffs and major reductions in agricultural support.
“At the same time, irrespective of size or sector, we found the best performing businesses were far better placed than others to deal with Brexit. So well-focussed performance improvement is a critical imperative.”
AHDB is currently identifying exactly what it is about the best performing businesses that makes them so much more robust and sustainable. By the early summer the organisation is also promising an interactive tool to allow individual farmers to assess the impact of the various Brexit scenarios on their own businesses.
“Our aim is to provide growers and their advisers with increasingly good guidance on making the most of the inevitable Brexit changes as the specifics become clearer,” David Eudall said.
“Whatever the actual position we have to face, our work so far makes it clear that knowing your costs of production, being as technically efficient as possible, maintaining a well-informed marketing strategy and basing decisions on sound business thinking will be key essentials for the future,” he stressed. “These will all be vital if your business is to have sufficient flexibility to take advantage of opportunities Brexit brings as well as dealing with the threats it so clearly poses.”