Snow Delays U.K. Crop Planting While Drifts Strand Some Animals

Snow and cold weather in the U.K. are extending delays in spring grain and oilseed crop planting and endangering young livestock during lambing season.

Central and northern England should expect “severe” cold weather and icy conditions this week with snow showers occurring in the northeast, according to the Met Office. Some areas had as much as 24 centimeters (9.4 inches) of snow on the ground as of yesterday, the national weather forecaster said. Areas of Scotland and Northern Ireland are under snow or ice warnings until tomorrow.

Snow-covered, muddied fields are keeping farmers from sowing crops including barley, a spring grain that farmers normally would be half-finished planting by now, said Charlotte Garbutt, a senior analyst at the Agriculture & Horticulture Development Board. She declined to estimate what percentage has been planted so far. Farmers may still be able to make up for lost time if the weather turns drier, she said.

“We had a couple of weeks where it was slightly warmer, and people managed to get a few crops in, but now we’ve had really wet weather and it’s gone cold again,” Garbutt said today in a telephone interview from Kenilworth, England. “That’s creating difficulties for farmers to make progress with their spring planting, in a year when there’s been quite a lot of emphasis on spring planting because winter plantings were down so much.”

Planting of winter crops including wheat and rapeseed fell 18 percent from a year earlier as the U.K.’s second-wettest year on record in 2012 kept farmers out of the fields last autumn, the AHDB said March 21. The wheat harvest in the past season totaled 13.3 million metric tons, 13 percent less than a year earlier, according to the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs. Feed wheat futures on NYSE Liffe in London rose to a record in November.

Lost Lambs

The cold weather and snow also is coming at the peak time when lambs are being born in the U.K., with drifts stranding some animals and prolonging feed delivery, according to the Scottish National Farmers Union. Snow and high winds came “at the worst possible time” and farmers are working to bring animals indoors, Northern Ireland’s Ulster Farmers’ Union said.

The government is relaxing restrictions for truck drivers this week on the number of hours they’re allowed to work without taking a break, as long as they’re delivering livestock feed, Defra said yesterday.

“We are well through our annual lambing so the snow couldn’t have hit at a worse time,” Andrew McCornick, a farmer in Dumfries, Scotland and a regional chairman of the Scottish NFU, said in a statement released by the farmers group today. “The drifting snow is so bad that there are still many vulnerable sheep that we are still battling to get to and we know that we are likely to face losses when the snow has cleared.”

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