The heat is on, on the … fields?

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The dry summer continues its impact on Dorset farmers as we move into autumn, says NFU county advisor Gemma Harvey

A parched Cranborne Chase during August
image: Laura Hitchcock

We all know by now that July 2022 was the driest July in England since 1911, and it has been the driest nine months (November 2021 to July 2022) since 1975/76. Met Office figures show that there has only been 24 per cent of the average rainfall for July.
The impact of this prolonged spell of dry weather is hugely challenging and causing concern for many agricultural and horticultural businesses across the country.
The dry weather is severely hampering grass growth. In Dorset, as with much of Britain, most livestock is grazed in a grass-based system, meaning that livestock eats grass from the fields in the summer, with farmers harvesting surplus grass to feed animals in the winter in the form of silage. The lack of grass this summer will inevitably hit feed supplies for the winter – many farmers are already having are already having to feed their livestock the forage reserved for winter to compensate for the lack of grass currently available.
For the county’s arable farmers, the dry weather has meant that harvest came early this year, with many having finished in time for the Gillingham and Shaftesbury show, which is somewhat unprecedented.

Fire risk still high
Attention now turns to the planting of winter crops; with the ground still cracked and parched, the establishment of crops such as winter cereals and oilseed rape will be difficult.
On top of all this, as I’m sure many will have seen and heard, the dry conditions are having widespread implications for fire-risk and farm safety. The county has experienced several fires over the past few weeks. This is devastating and dangerous for all those involved but is also a heartening example of how the farming community is able to pull together in times of need. Neighbouring farmers are making great use of WhatsApp to alert one another to fire risks, and coming to one another’s aid with tankers of water to help extinguish fires and cultivators to stop them spreading (see the story our news pages).
This does serve as an important reminder though, with weather conditions so dry and temperatures high, the fire risk remains high. With an increased number of people making the most of the weather and enjoying being out and about in the countryside, there has also been an increase in the use of disposable barbecues.
The NFU is reminding the public to be safe and responsible when out enjoying the countryside.

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