Farmers desperate for rain as dry April threatens crops

The dry weather prompted North Norfolk farmer Kit Papworth to start irrigating his wheat crops on April 28

The dry spring has already prompted North Norfolk farmer Kit Papworth to start irrigating his wheat crops - Credit: Kit Papworth / Chris Hill

An exceptionally dry spring has left Norfolk farmers desperate for rain to avoid drought damage to crops in their parched fields.

Forecasters are predicting the month is on course to become one of the driest and coldest Aprils on record.

The lack of rainfall has sparked fears for emerging crops such as wheat and barley, while the series of overnight spring frosts has delayed the start of the strawberry-picking season and put fruit and vegetable growers two weeks behind schedule.

A field of Norfolk wheat crops being irrigated

North Norfolk farmer Kit Papworth began irrigating his wheat crops on April 28 - Credit: Kit Papworth

North Norfolk farm contractor Kit Papworth began irrigating his wheat fields on Wednesday - the earliest he has ever needed to supply extra water for a crop which usually relies on April showers.

"This is one of the driest Aprils I have ever seen," he said. "The rainfall is impacting on expected yields, and the impact could be incredibly serious.

"It has meant we have been able to get on with planting our spring crops in good conditions, but if we don't get some rain soon, the yields of winter and spring cereals will be severely impacted."

Jamie Lockhart, chairman of the Norfolk branch of the National Farmers' Union (NFU) said the spring conditions were further "undeniable" evidence of the county's weather becoming "more extreme and less predictable".

"Having had a very wet autumn and winter, where soils became saturated and waterlogged delaying early spring cultivations, this has been replaced by a prolonged dry spell that has led to a rapid drying of land and leaving many seeds sat in less than ideal seed beds," he said.

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"Couple this with two weeks of consecutive night temperatures dropping below 2C, it means crops are well behind where we would expect them to be. This is particularly apparent with field vegetable crops with many growers suggesting their crops are two weeks behind where they would expect at this stage. 

"The livestock sector is also challenged by very slow grass growth in a year where they are also managing straw shortages following a difficult harvest in 2020 and increased competition from the straw burning power stations.

"Let’s hope for some much-needed rain and some warmer nights soon."

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