Farmers, it’s said, always want « weather by the field ». Certain crops require more rain, others less. Some thrive in shady conditions, others need sun all day long. Today, farmers are less exacting: they’d be happy with some simple predictability.
Extreme weather patterns are fast becoming the new normal. In the UK, farmers suffered through two winters of lower than average rainfall, followed by one of the wettest on record. Across the Atlantic, meanwhile, a sustained drought led to the lowest wheat harvest for six years, despite there being more acres planted than any time in the last seven decades.
Future proofing farming
Farmers need to face up to the reality of « increasingly unpredictable weather, » says Caroline Drummond, chief executive of sustainable farming group Leaf. To help them on their way, Leaf has launched a six-step guide on sustainable water management. The steps cover ways to save water, protect water sources, manage the soil, install effective drainage and monitor water consumption.
« Farmers tell us that they can cope with one bad year of drought or heavy rains, but the impact of two bad years makes it much harder to ensure their business remains resilient, » Drummond explains.
The idea of weather-resilient agriculture chimes with supermarket Asda, which worked with Leaf to develop the advisory guide.
We see this as part of future proofing the industry and building capacity so that farmers are equipped to implement necessary changes,
says Chris Brown, head of ethical and sustainable sourcing at the British supermarket.
For a retailer like Asda, which sources stock from thousands of farms across the UK, it doesn’t take long before water problems in the countryside morph into problems in its stores. It’s all connected, Brown explains. Excessive rains mean a bad cereal crop, which means more expensive animal feed, which means higher food prices at the till.