Impact of wet weather on cropping plans and budgets

25.10.12 Discussion archive

The impact of the wet weather is an urgent item on the agenda of most farms, both crops and livestock, and this session drew in comments from all sectors across Great Britain.

It seems inevitable that livestock farmers are going to be facing a tough winter with cattle housed earlier than usual because of the wet weather and that same weather meaning supplies of the extra feed needed have been affected.

However farmers are continuing to make the best of a poor job, getting on with fieldwork and caring for their animals. With no real break in weather or indeed the accuracy of forecasts improving, it is important to plan ahead and to mitigate against risks to avoid potentially disastrous knock-on effects for 2013 harvest.

A focus on R&D was positively encouraged, and in particular on soils as being in need of major investment due to their central importance to field operations.

The discussion held on Thursday 25th October 2012 looked at “the impact of wet weather on cropping plans and budgets” and generated a total of 272 tweets on the topic from 46 participants. These included farmers, agri-food businesses, rural advisors, land agents, lawyers, journalists and NFU officeholders.

A full summary of the discussion can be found here:

Q1a How is it for you? Let’s get the impact of the weather mapped out as best we can across sectors and areas

  • One major consequence of 2012 is growers reluctant to commit to purchasing stock for 2013
  • Still 20+ acres of barley to harvest, silage to bale and straw to bale. Straw supplies much less than usual too.
  • I feel guilty, my bit of Essex ok, Sugar beet in, but trials yet to harvest
  • Not much maize harvested yet in Kent. Last county to lose its’ Hosepipe ban, but now as wet as everyone else
  • Silage late so last wheat in today/tomorrow. Lucky to get seed (organic) but praying colder weather nullifies slugs
  • OSR has been in for 6 weeks. Slugs, flooding and cold soils are taking their toll. 400 acres wheat to sow
  • Some drilling done but lots not done yet round here we’d already decided to sow less now
  • National milk production at lowest for years further compounded by poor quality forages and low stocks

Q1b NFU Crops Chairman Andrew Watts says this is the worst Autumn for 30 years. Do you agree?

  • From our lambs to our spring calves, nothing seems to be growing as well – time will tell with the prices of the winter.
  • In East Yorkshire, personally 60% of usual 1st grass area cut, vining peas ploughed in, 50% wheat yield @ 60 bushel……
  • Shropshire is incredibly wet. Even grass fields have become bogs with standing water
  • I think it has been the worst summer & autumn, not had a good break in the weather
  • Drilling paused for now. Potato & maize harvest very steady reports of stuck trailers
  • It’s definitely a challenge this year, with frightening knock-on effect for the coming years
  • All organic wheat in but with risky home-saved seed and dreadful seedbeds – we are full of pessimism. Worst for many years
  • I know of fruit farms that have had their worst crops yet due to cold/wet keeping bees indoors & stopping pollination
  • We have snow forecast and not finished harvest!
  • It’s wet everywhere – a problem now but it will be magnified in 2013 / 14 simply because prospects for 2013 harvest are dire
  • Harvesting maize last week in Buckinghamshire. Manageable with a chain but damage will take a while to repair

Q2a What does all that mean re: changes to cropping/herd/disease management plans/land left fallow/spring cropping?

  • Wet weather, reduced crop growth, lack of stock performance, poor demand, not to mention a struggling euro.
  • Forced spring cropping = interesting, but only if spring land dry enough to work. Big change in weed spectrum due to it
  • Remember roots/maize growers sometimes won’t sow WW until Nov anyway. Is there time for a dry spell to finish?
  • It means we have not been able to do as many autumn cults to control weeds. Varietal changes forced too.
  • Have heard of some people having to give up all together on winter crops this year- just can’t get out on the land

Q2b Who has cattle inside for winter already?

Q3 Can things be turned round or is it too late. What will it take weather-wise to turn things round?

  • Not good, and what damage to the soil? It’s sadly going to be a long haul
  • Every farmer needs a miracle this winter with the price of straw at more than £90 a tone
  • Cold and dry for next few weeks but not too cold, so soil temp stays above 5 for much of winter
  • For most it is too late. Need ideal conditions to sow this late, no slugs/compaction! Cattle – forage short, feed expensive
  • For livestock farmers it’s going to be an expensive winter now! Arable boys must pray that they get a dry mild month
  • The forecast is no longer reliable. We can’t plan anything-they say good weather, we plan to silage or whatever it rains
  • Crop Watch – weed control plans disrupted by the wet weather
  • If the soil dries out or is ploughed then it’s certainly not too late. Up seed rates though
  • Yes, “can” be achieved, but only with ideal conditions, both of soil drilled into and weather – seen by very few

Q4 What’s the immediate impact of the wet weather on budgets? E.g. winter feed for stock? Re-drilling? 

  • Forage crops are going to play a vital part in keeping feed costs down, that’s if the slugs didn’t get the better of them
  • Impact on budget is huge with having to dry grain more and prospect of having to buy straw
  • Revising budgets 1 thing; revising cropping another. Especially if you already have seed in barn, chemicals in store etc
  • Revise budgets and cashflows to account for harvest effect
  • Somerset Levels farmers have little winter feed after disastrous wet summer: animals sold to reduce impact
  • Unfortunately wet weather has a double whammy for fruit growers as sales are depressed resulting in poor prices!
  • With a view to price – planning to steer away from spring barley this yr – thinking the market’s going to be “flooded” next winter…

Q5 Looking further ahead what can we expect bottom lines to look like in 2013/14?

  • In my view following this season, forward selling of cereals by farmers will die a death
  • Nothing in farming is certain anymore and that includes predicting what you will have to sell next year. Forward selling=risky

Q6a Trying to get something positive from this, how’ve you been using downtime – paperwork, inventions, maintenance, IT?

  • We had an afternoon off and went out
  • The combine has never been cleaner
  • Seed cleaning and processing until Jan/Feb then planting
  • Concreting a new potato seed chitting shed/storage for Dad’s growing collection of vintage tractors!!

Q6b Obviously you’ll all be doing your soil protection reviews – how can they be improved?

  • Don’t we all yearn for greater public R&D on soils? Private Companies don’t spend on it – but need is massive
  • By them being treated as vital documents there to protect soils & pesticide usage.
  • By not viewing them as ‘red tape’
  • The online version should have interactive maps

Q7) What does the industry need in terms of R&D to be able to cope better in wet years like this?

  • It is a bit of a long shot, but perennial cereals would be a great help
  • R&D on fusarium resistant seed would be useful. However, would a GM only solution be acceptable to Organic bodies?
  • Add in Nitrogen fixing too, holy grail of plant breeders
  • Need serious money on soil R&D. 50% of crop yield determined by soil but only gets c.5% of research ££’s
  • Shift from continental beef cattle to rare native breeds that can thrive outside a shed for longer/all winter?
  • Soil protection essential starting point
  • Probably a better understanding/treatment/varietal resistance to ear disease
  • R&D on farming systems that = more resistant to shocks &stresses- i.e. more flexible and able to cope with weather changes

Q8 Are you thinking about/ starting to put in place measures to future-proof your farm against unpredictable & extreme weather?

  • My vision for farming more ground has shrunk quicker than my bushel weights, attention to detail is vital now
  • Risk planning/mitigation big area now after last few seasons
  • Polytunnels for strawberries and more recently hail nets for cherries becoming the norm & necessary in fruit world
  • For us the future has to have better drains, improved field access and the rare breed cattle

Q9 There’s been a lot of press talk about food prices rising because of the wet weather. Is it just scaremongering?

  • Food prices to stay high for most food. Retailers have to respect the problems we face – last chance saloon for them too
  • Not scaremongering, but the will be high prices. Caused by worldwide problems. Especially drought in US!
  • The media will look for scary stories, but a world shortage of wheat will affect food prices.
  • From what has been discussed tonight, it’s probably true. Higher feed and food prices, no escape.
  • If prices have gone up for feedstuff then of course the prices will rise for the housewife
  • Food prices will undoubtedly rise, but supermarkets will pass squeeze both ends and pass costs to farmers and consumers

Links to more information

Simon Haley and Alan Spedding, 29 October 2012

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