Farmers battle 'worst autumn in memory' to get seeds planted and crops out of the ground
PUBLISHED: 11:34 29 November 2019 | UPDATED: 12:05 29 November 2019
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Crop growing across East Anglia has been severely disrupted by prolonged wet weather - and there are fears the effects will continue to be felt next year.
Although much less badly hit than other parts of the country such as the Midlands and Derbyshire, farmers in the east have made patchy progress as a result of muddy fields and poor conditions.
The National Farmers' Union (NFU) said the prolonged spell of wet conditions was having "significant" impacts on farming businesses across East Anglia.
NFU deputy president Guy Smith, who farms near Clacton, said nationally the picture was "patchy and localised".
"For instance, I know of farms in the east Midlands where no autumn drilling has taken place and yet 50 miles south there are farms in East Anglia who are up to date," he said.
"The other complication is that a dry run up to Christmas or a kind spring will allow farmers to get the growing year back on track to a certain extent. However, what is clear is that to date cropping programmes are severely disrupted and the 2020 harvest is already compromised."
Many farm businesses will be facing significant cash flow problems over the coming year, he warned.
Glenn Buckingham, chair of the Suffolk branch of the NFU, who farms near Debenham, said the conditions had delayed seed drilling, with some land not sown this autumn as planned, and difficult seedbeds not likely to perform as normal.
But he added: "Unlike some parts of the country, it has been possible to continue with sowing when the opportunity arises. Added to this slug pressure has increased due to the relatively warm conditions earlier and the copious moisture which they prefer."
A shortage of seed supply for spring sowing had caused prices to rise, he added - a clear indication of the situation.
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"I don't suppose the full picture will emerge until next harvest, but there is unlikely to be an exportable surplus of wheat for harvest 2020 and even winter barley could have supply issues," he predicted.
"Harvest prices for 2020 are up and this will compensate to some extent, but let's not forget we do not know what sort of European Union exit we are going to get yet."
Farmers have been battling the difficult circumstances to harvest potatoes and other vegetables, as well as lift sugar beet and plant cereal crops for next year's harvest.
By November 12, almost 90% of potatoes had been harvested and further progress was expected to be made.
NFU national crops board chairman Tom Bradshaw, who farms near Colchester, said: "We estimate that about 40 to 50% of the winter cereal crop has been planted across the UK, with a similar situation in East Anglia. That doesn't take account of the actual condition of the crop in the ground.
"For many farmers it is the worst autumn in memory - even when they have managed to plant crops the yields will be severely compromised.
"On our own farm we are about 40% drilled, and with more rain forecast we are just sitting on our hands at the moment.
"There are some serious long-term implications. Farmers are changing their rotations and moving to spring cropping, so that could potentially lead to oversupply of some spring crops next year.
"The NFU can't do anything about the weather, but we are in constant touch with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) and the Environment Agency to encourage flexibility and ease the problems of cash flow.
"The RPA has been asked to ensure affected farmers receive their BPS payments as early as possible when the payment window opens next month."
The prolonged spell of wet weather and flooding prompted the NFU to urge the next government and its agencies to develop long-term strategic plans to mitigate future flood risk and better manage water.