Drought conditions causing concern among farmers

Norfolk farmers have raised concerns about continuing drought conditions, with one producer calling this year's harvest 'the worst' he has experienced for many years.

The drought was first declared by the Environment Agency (EA) in June and during the previous month Eastern England was the driest part of the country with less than half the expected rainfall.

An EA spokesman said: 'Although the summer does seem to have been quite dull and damp, we haven't had sufficent rain to refill the groundwater supply that feeds many of our rivers.

'In Norfolk we are still in drought with levels of rivers and groundwater generally below average for the year.

'The eastern part of the county has had less rainfall recently than the western part of the county. The rivers Heacham, Nar and Wissey are running at about half their normal level for the time of year due to the low winter and spring rainfall.


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'In the western part of the county most of the rivers and groundwater are about normal or slightly below for the time of year, except the top end of the River Waveney, which is still feeling the impacts of the dry spring.'

William Brigham grows wheat, barley, maize, sugar beet, oilseed rape and grass on a farm in Lyng, near Dereham, where he also keeps 150 cows.

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He said: 'It is the worst harvest I have had for many years. The cereal on the light land has been extremely poor...The weather has been totally against us. It has been a diabolical year.'

Mr Brigham said that throughout March, April and May, there was only 18mm of rain on his farm and added the average rainfall during that time is three or four times that amount.

He said the rainfall increased to 30mm in June and although it helped in the production of silage - cut grass, which is used to feed cows - it was 'too late' for his cereal crops. The same amount fell last month and so far this month.

'We are now relying on the cows to have a good winter period to bring in the money,' added Mr Brigham, who provides milk to Asda supermarkets in London and East Anglia.

During this year's harvest he said he has produced two tonnes of barley per acre, instead of his usual three tonnes, and two-and-a-half tonnes of wheat per acre, instead of four tonnes which he usually grows.

Francis Ulrych, who grows sugar beet, cereals and oilseed rape in Griston, near Watton, said farmers will be 'in trouble' if rainfall has not improved by January.

He added: 'I'm sure that will not be the case - nature has a habit of balancing itself out.'

Mr Ulrych said the dry conditions affected his barley crop, but not his sugar beet - a factor which is common among several farmers across the county.

Tim Jolly, who owns an irrigated arable farm in Roudham, near East Harling, said: 'The cereals by and large suffered the most...Some of my farm neighbours who have got corn crops on light land have been siginificantly affected. Their yield is less than a half of what they normally get. It is not universally bad but the yield in Norfolk is below average.'

Members of the National Farmers' Union in East Anglia will be meeting with Environment Agency officials on Monday afternoon to discuss issues around drought.

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