Harvest time marks the end of the annual farming cycle and the effects of the drought in the UK have become clearer.
The absence of rain in the early spring has affected the yield and quality of grain crops, but also one farmer has reported that because they were more thinly spread, when the rain did finally arrive the result was a proliferation of fast-growing weeds and wild flowers in between the crop.
Because of lower revenues expected from the reduced yield this made spraying the weeds with expensive chemicals to eliminate them potentially too expensive. It also caused problems with harvesting.
Grain is not only grown for human consumption but for feed for birds such as poultry and another result of the drought has been the loss of some of this crop and a lower quality of what did ripen.
Therefore, farmers have been forced to rethink some of their normal planning cycle to adapt to the changed weather pattern. This could mean changing the seed drilling times and perhaps shifting to growing a winter grain crop for the bird feed.
It is possible that some of the current research that has been reported will help with such decisions. Pin-pointing the genes in the more drought resistant varieties of grains may eventually produce more robust seeds bred to need less water and better able to resist drought.
Low-chem agricultural products may also help, both with enhancing yields but also with the problems of ensuring that late spraying to eliminate weeds and pests does not leave any residue in the crops when they are harvested and in the land as it is being prepared for the next season.
This is one of the advantages that the new generation of more naturally derived biopesticides, yield enhancers and biofungicides have over the older generation of chemically-based products and can contribute to more sustainable farming. It could also address the concerns of consumers, who increasingly want healthier and more natural, residue-free food.
Water conservation and irrigation are also likely to become more important. Planting ground cover to conserve moisture and protect the soil is another idea that has been suggested to adapt farming methods to drier conditions. This is also a technique advocated for more sustainable farming.
It could eventually be the case that the changes to the weather patterns that have caused this year’s problems for UK farmers have actually been beneficial in encouraging more flexible and sustainable thinking in agriculture.
Copyright (c) 2011 Alison Withers