Making your farm more weather-resilient makes good business sense. But with more volatile and extreme weather predicted, it becomes essential to short and long-term success.
So what are the threats your farm is likely to have to contend with? What doors may open with new opportunities?
And most importantly, what can you do to protect your farm business and exploit new avenues?
The following information was collated with the help of:
  • Lorraine Hutt, senior advisor for agriculture and forestry for the Climate Ready Programme, Environment Agency
  • Cerys Jones, climate change advisor, NFU
    80th birthday logoCelebrating 80 years
    of farming excellence
    Farmers Weekly: 1934-2014
  • Dr John Conway, director of research, Royal Agricultural University
  • Prof John Turner, emeritus professor, University of East Anglia
Information was also taken from:
  • UK Government Adaptation Sub-Committee
  • Farming Futures
Arable and horticulture
How a climate-ready farm might cope
• Erratic rainfall, with less in summer and more in winter.
• Plant stress from more frequent and extended droughts and heatwaves.
• Crop damage from intense storms and flooding.
• Establishment problems due to wetter soils and waterlogging, and soil erosion due to flooding
• Increasingly volatile global grain markets.
• New pests, diseases and increased weeds, which stressed plants may be more susceptible to.
• Water supply-demand imbalance due to increased needs from agriculture in summer and a growing UK population.
• Cereal crop cultivation moves further north in England.
• Land loss from coastal erosion.
• Increased costs for improving cooling, wind- and floodproofing abilities of existing crop storage buildings.
• New crop varieties to overcome challenges such as drought.
• Alternative (and niche) crops such as olives, peaches, sunflowers, apricots, soya beans, maize as grain crop, durum wheat, millet,sorghum, chickpea, grapes and other oilseed and starch crops.
• Earlier harvests/longer growing seasons for some crops.
• More favourable conditions in UK than in other countries.
• Better growth further north than at present – Scotland may improve considerably.
• Generally warmer temperatures encourage productivity (all other things being equal).
• UK may be well placed to take advantage of higher prices and wider potential markets due to global crop shortages.
• Home-grown markets could become more important in the face of volatile global supply and food insecurity.
• Certain land management techniques – buffer strips, wetland creation, shelter belts – may create financial rewards.
• Make a risk assessment of your farm and business – have long- and short-term contingency plans.
• Improve organic matter to make soils more resilient to erosion and drought. Use buffer strips, drainage ditches, ponds or wetlands toincrease infiltration rates.
• Reduce risk of flooding – plough across slopes if possible and use cover crops to reduce soil exposure.
• Collaborate with other farmers to build reservoirs and invest in irrigation to collect and store rainwater for times of shortage.
• Investigate drought- and heat-resistant crop varieties.
• Speak to supply chains about potential timing changes and agree an action plan.
• Investigate local water availability.
• Repair leaks, join or initiate an abstractor group to share knowledge and liaise with regulator.
• Spray crops at night.
• Plant shade/shelter belts for crops to protect against high temperatures.
• Ensure buildings are maintained and prepared for more extreme weather.
Sheep, beef and dairy
How a climate-ready farm might cope
• Heat stress may change animals’ feed intake, reduce reproduction and milk yields.
• Less stable spring/summer grass supply due to drought, heat stress, wet, or flooding leading to compromised winter forage.
• More frequent and severe storms affecting upland pastures and cutting livestock off from food.
• Insufficient access to drinking water during droughts.
• Exotic diseases from increased global trade, higher temperatures and greater health risk from flooded pastures.
• Inability of livestock buildings to cope – need for more cooling, heating, wind- and flood-proofing.
• Increasingly volatile cost of feed.
• Stock maintenance issues, such as housing during extreme weather.
• Increased need to buy-in supplemental feed and silage.
• Warmer conditions improve grass in uplands and create greater opportunities at higher altitudes and further north.
• Longer grazing seasons could increase productivity and reduce feed costs.
• Agriculture expands to higher altitudes than currently possible.
• Longer grazing seasons could increase productivity and reduce feed costs.
• Bigger range of forage opportunities – chicory, lucerne, red clover and maize.
• Possibilities of introducing new livestock species more suited to, for instance, warmer conditions.
• Make a farm risk assessment. Have long- and short-term contingency plans for different weather scenarios.
• Align grass cutting or grazing regime with seasonal shifts.
• Investigate grass and forage varieties that can cope with climate changes and establish diverse species pasture more resilient to grazingpressure and conditions.
• Assess at-risk land and move livestock to higher ground when flooding is expected.
• Improve drainage and incorporate buffer strips, drainage ditches, ponds or wetlands to increase soil infiltration.
• Ensure buildings are prepared for more extreme weather, installing, for example, cooling in dairy parlours.
• Collect and store rainwater.
• Use hedgerows and trees for shelter/shade.
• Tighten biosecurity.
• Potentially alter lambing and calving in line with grass growth.
• Consider replacing livestock breeds with ones better suited to conditions.
• Closely observe emergence of new pests, diseases and weeds.
• Propose alternative supply agreements with water company should mains water be unavailable.
• Consider a contingency plan for milk storage and transport; seek advice from insurance company.
• Ensure plenty of drinking water and sufficient airflow in buildings to prevent heat stress.
Pigs and poultry
How a climate-ready farm might cope
• Risk of heat stress in intensive indoor units, leading to lower productivity including feeding and fertility problems.
• Increasingly volatile cost of feed.
• Exotic diseases from increased global trade, higher temperatures and increased health risk from flooded buildings and land.
• Inability of livestock buildings to cope with weather extremes – increased costs for cooling, heating, wind- and floodproofing.
• Use of excess heat in sheds to power renewable energy production.
• Increased possibility of introducing new species or varieties.
• Make a risk assessment of your farm and business – plan for coping in different weather scenarios.
• Manage housing and transportation to maintain optimal temperatures and cope with weather extremes. Consider investment in insulation,ventilation and climate-control systems.
• Ensure plenty of drinking water, create shade areas and enable sufficient airflow indoors to prevent heat stress.
• Assess at-risk land; outdoor pigs and poultry should be moved to higher ground when floods are expected.
• Have a contingency plan for livestock sheds at risk of flooding.
• Keep biosecurity tight.