Extreme weather disrupting UK food production, but farmer adaption to climate change is slow

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The UK’s food production is being harmed by extreme weather, but new research has found that many farmers are not adapting to climate change fast enough.

Extreme weather caused by climate change is ruining the UK’s agricultural food production. However, a new study suggests that many farmers aren’t prioritising their adaptation to climate change.

Based on 31 in-depth interviews, the study was carried out by researchers from the University of Exeter and published in the journal, Climate Risk Management. It revealed that all the participating farmers reported issues caused by climate change in recent years, from heavy rain to long dry weather spells. These extreme conditions are only expected to increase.

Concerns about the impact of heat and drought on crop and grass growth were at the forefront of farmers’ minds. Additionally, they said they were worried about flooding and heavy rainfall causing soil erosion and run-off and impacting field operations like drilling and harvesting.

But on-farm investment to tackle the issue wasn’t found to be the biggest priority. A number of farmers viewed ongoing or future changes in climate as “too uncertain and too long-term” for them to significantly invest time and money for planning at this stage. Moreover, many farmers, the study found, were focused on short-term profitability and business survival in an increasingly challenging market, and were also concerned about “political and public pressures”.

“Farmers have an array of challenges and uncertainties to cope with,” said Dr Rebecca Wheeler, the paper’s co-author. She added that the business focus seems to be preventing farmers from adapting to the effects of the climate emergency: “It is essential the industry finds ways to build resilience, and that farm businesses are supported in planning and responding to changing weather patterns.”

However, the research showed a capacity for innovation and adaptability within the agricultural industry, with many farmers building resistance by improving soil health. This helps raise productivity, store carbon and increase the ability for grass and crops to cope with extreme weather conditions.

Other positive measures include a continuous evaluation of crop and grass varieties and growing techniques, establishing additional livestock housing with proper ventilation, increasing the capacity of rainwater storage, and risk-spreading through expanding the diversity of their crops and enterprises.

But there is some optimism for farmers, as warmer temperatures brought on by climate change can enable new crops and increased yield in certain instances, according to the research.

Prof Matt Lobley, who co-authored the study, added: “There are many innovative and exciting activities happening on farms across the country, but much is still to be done to improve the resilience of individual farms and the industry as a whole.”

Read about the green conference prioritising climate-friendly food and plant-based farming.

Anay Mridul
Anay Mridul
Anay is journalism graduate from City, University of London, he was a barista for three years, and never shuts up about coffee. He's passionate about coffee, plant-based milk, cooking, eating, veganism, writing about all that, profiling people, and the Oxford Comma. Originally from India, he went vegan in 2020, after attempting (and failing) Veganuary. He believes being environmentally conscious is a basic responsibility, and veganism is the best thing you can do to battle climate change. He gets lost at Whole Foods sometimes.