Heatwave struggles for farmers in South East

Photo by WSFRS. Firefighters at a crop fire in Chilgrove Road, Lavant. 23-07-18
Photo by WSFRS. Firefighters at a crop fire in Chilgrove Road, Lavant. 23-07-18

As temperatures stay scorching, a South East agricultural expert said he is worried about the huge strain the heatwave is having on the region’s farming community.

Johnny Denman, of rural insurance specialists Lycetts, said the searing heat and a lack of rain in recent months is taking its toll on farmers, who are increasingly faced with animal welfare issues, crop failure concerns and wildfire risks.

He said some are having to sell livestock they can’t feed and warned that if the hot weather continues as expected, farming businesses could be dealing with the effects of the hot and dry spell until early next year.

Denman, who is based in West Sussex, said: “Farmers are hurtling towards a crisis point.

“We have not seen weather like this in decades, and although people up and down the country are enjoying a break from the gloomy British summertime, it is sinking in that such unrelenting hot weather can have dire consequences, evidenced by the current public health warnings.

“Farmers have been battling to survive during this heatwave, faced with drought conditions, tinderbox fields, and livestock they can’t feed – they are growing increasingly desperate with every day.

“Crop yields are down, at least ten per cent, due to the dryness. Crops stopped growing six weeks ago, resulting in food shortages for livestock and poor harvests.

“There is no grass for cows to graze and farmers are being forced to use their winter stocks – which are already low – to keep them going. This paves the way for a very challenging six months ahead.

“And the worst could be yet to come. Experts are warning that extreme heatwaves in the summer could be the new norm, leaving agricultural businesses’ future hanging in the balance.”

Denman said that farmers are feeling the effects of the hot weather in other ways too.

He recounted cases where sheepdogs, lambs and calves have died in extreme heat, and wildfires have been making headlines up and down the country.

“The sad reality is that farmers, particularly smaller operations, are having to deal with all these risk factors on their own. It is hard for them to juggle the responsibilities of keeping their animals and fields healthy in such sustained, adverse weather,” said Denman.

“They can certainly take steps, such as ensuring there is enough shade and water available for their livestock, ensuring hay stacks are kept out of direct sunlight, away from glass or mirrors, entrances to fields are easily accessible for fire engines and making fire departments aware of sources of water on their land in case of an emergency.

“Many farmers are also using water dowsers when harvesting, as combine harvesters are more prone to catching fire in this heat.

“But members of the public can do their bit too, particularly when it comes to enjoying sunny days out in the countryside.

“Fields are like tinder in this weather, so ensure that cigarettes are discarded of properly, refrain from lighting disposal BBQs, unless in designated areas, and don’t leave any glass behind, which could spark a fire.

“Anyone who sees a fire should contact the fire authorities right away. Even something as innocuous as a bit of smouldering can quickly escalate and cause extensive damage.”