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East Anglia Future 50

Environment secretary Michael Gove promises support to farmers amid drought warnings

A combine harvester at work at Thrigby. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

A combine harvester at work at Thrigby. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Copyright: Archant 2018

Environment secretary Michael Gove has promised to support farmers in the future, ahead of a summit on the “unprecedented” impact of the summer drought on food production.

Environment secretary Michael Gove speaking at the 2018 NFU Conference.
 Picture by Simon Hadley.
Environment secretary Michael Gove speaking at the 2018 NFU Conference. Picture by Simon Hadley.

The National Farmers’ Union (NFU) met officials in London today to discuss “tinderbox” conditions that have reduced grass growth and “depleted” some crop yields.

Areas of concern for the farming industry across East Anglia include a shortage of forage for livestock and dairy farmers, availability of water resources for irrigated crops like potatoes and onions, and a risk of crop fires.

The UK has seen its driest first half of summer since 1961, with last Thursday and Friday bringing the first rainfall in weeks, and farmers have warned the hot, dry conditions have hit harvests.

Scientists have said the heatwave gripping northern Europe was made twice as likely by climate change, and the UK faces a future of increasingly common episodes of extremely hot spells.

A dry field near Colney.
Picture: ANTONY KELLYA dry field near Colney. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Farmers also face uncertainty over the future of the sector after Brexit, with changes to their subsidies and potential impacts of trade deals with the EU and countries such as the US.

Speaking outside the meeting, Mr Gove emphasised the importance of supporting future food production and taking steps “in order to ensure we can improve and enhance our resilience against the challenge of climate change”.

He also said: “We will make sure farmers have what they need in order to provide us with high-quality food and ensure their businesses survive.

“We want to be flexible and we don’t want to allow bureaucracy to get in the way of providing farmers with the support they deserve and the country needs.”

Before the “drought summit”, NFU president Minette Batters said recent weather conditions were “unprecedented”.

She said: “I’ve been farming for 25 years myself and we’ve never been feeding cattle at this time of the year, and we are at the moment, and that is the case right across the country.

“We haven’t had any appreciable rainfall since May, but if you have your office outside you are obviously at the mercy of the weather. This is unusual - we haven’t seen anything like this since 1976.

“It’s added a lot of costs because it comes on the back of a long, hard winter. I think that’s what has made this year so very unusual.”

Ms Batters said it is “too early” to say whether consumers will be hit by price hikes, but she warned that crop yields will be affected.

NFU leaders met officials from Defra, an array of rural agencies and figures from farming charities for the summit.

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