Did you learn in geography lessons at school that the rain falls mainly in the West and by the time the prevailing winds reach the East, they have shed most of their water, leaving the east very dry? Well, it hasn’t happened this year. The spring of 2012 was very dry but since then it has rained, rained and rained, contributing to the highest national figure ever for England.
What are the outcomes of all this water? Tim Scott our CRT arable farmer from Barton, near Cambridge, shares the difficulties of many East Anglian farmers and has only managed to drill 60% of his autumn crops. Conditions have not allowed many days for drilling spring crops and because of the excessive rain, many winter crops have developed poor and shallow root systems.
As a result, Tim has been in demand to talk about spring crops to farmers. Obviously, part of the interest in spring cropping is because of the adverse weather affecting winter cropping. However this is not the only reason for the interest. Over the years grass weeds, especially blackgrass, has become a problem where continuous winter cereals have been grown. Many herbicides do not perform well against the grass weeds because of reststance, so alternative strategies including spring cropping are being considered. Tim has aways sown about 30% of his crops in the spring, so he has lots of experience of spring sowing to share. Although his main reasons for growing spring crops is that they are generally better for wildlife because the ground cover is less, giving more opportunities for feeding and breeding.
The other bad news about the heavy rain is the evidence of pollution of nutrients and some pesticides into water courses from tracks, tramlines, drains and run-off from compacted soils. If these conditions are to be repeated under climate change, we must consider sediment traps and improving soil structure to reduce run-off.
Our Hereforshire farms have also suffered from even more rain. At Awnells, David Powell likes to overwinter a proportion of his single suckling Traditional Herefords at grass but this strategy has been sorely tested this winter and the pastures are a sad mix of grass and mud.
Even wetlands have suffered because cutting for hay was impossible and the biodiversty has possibly been affected. However, the conditions have cofirmed if anything, the importance of the provision of wet meadows to store water and reduce flooding downstream.