Farming is one of the sectors of the economy most vulnerable to the weather and the effects of climate change. Farmers in England and Wales are bracing themselves for wetter winters, drier summers and extreme weather events such as scorching heat or intense rainfall.
As climate change bites, the consequences will include rising sea levels, more frequent and severe flooding, and less water in summer to irrigate crops. Farmers also face the prospect of more pests surviving the winter, more heat stress in stock and changes in the soil water balance.
Responding to climate change
Best Farming Practices explores how you can protect against (and sometimes profit from) climate change. One section focuses on using water wisely, making best use of what is becoming a scarce resource in some parts of the country.
Another explores how to combat the increased risk of flooding. A third examines how you can save energy and reduce waste – an imperative as the prices of fuel and electricity escalate and society struggles to cut greenhouse gas emissions.
Saving water, cutting costs
Efficient water use should be part of every farmer's management strategy. Developing a 'water wise' action plan saves water and reduces pollution risk and costs.
Water can be saved relatively quickly by changing washing regimes. Reducing milk collection to every other day halves the water used for bulk tank cleaning. Vegetable washing water can be reused for irrigation. Water collected from roofs can be used for washing, stock drinking or irrigation, while ground and surface water can be used for most purposes.
Winter storage for summer irrigation
It may be possible to irrigate in drier months by using stored water from winter abstraction or rainfall. One farmer who is doing this is Robert Smith, who grows premium-quality vegetables on 800 hectares of light, sandy-loam soils in Cambridgeshire.
Robert is working with neighbouring farmers to build a 500,000m³ (110 million gallon) reservoir. Filled through winter rainfall, it will feed 24km of underground distribution mains to support summer irrigation on up to 18 farms.
In addition to securing the water supply, the reservoir will unlock a further 3,000ha of land for irrigated production. It will also allow longer rotations and help reduce pesticide use.