Thursday, 16 May 2013

Complaining about the weather

It seems almost incredible after the wet year we have just experienced to be calling for rain, but that is in fact what is needed. After last year’s wet weather many farmers were simply unable to access land to plant autumn crops and so they were desperate for the rain to stop. Therefore, farmers were pleased to find conditions became drier in March and April which enabled many to plant spring crops.

However, the dry weather has been accompanied by strong, drying winds which were initially also bitterly cold and although recently it has warmed up a little the wind in particular has dried the surface of the soil too much which is making it difficult for crops to thrive. The rain we have had in the last week or so will be welcome but the return to low temperatures and strong winds will not be helpful.

Many readers will probably say that farmers are always complaining about the weather, but in the last few years I think they have had ample reason to do so and I just can’t help wondering whether we are beginning to experience the first real evidence of climate change. The unpredictable and extreme conditions, going from drought to flood and hot to cold as we have seen in recent years is exactly what climate scientists have been predicting would happen.

I suspect the problem is that it will only be in hindsight that we will be able to say for certain whether what we are experiencing now is the start of climate change. However, what is for certain is that the unpredictable and extreme weather patterns we have experienced in recent years pose a real challenge for farmers to produce food. This is of concern to farmers here in mid-Somerset whose profitability will undoubtedly be affected but it is also of concern at a global level which is one of the reasons why reducing carbon dioxide emissions is on the political agenda.

As a consequence we are now seeing solar parks springing up around the countryside as the government drives policies forward to subsidise renewable energy projects. Yet we also here talk of the potential of fracking here in Mendip where natural gas may be extracted from the rocks beneath our local landscape which if burned will presumably contribute further to climate change.

It seems to me that a comprehensive energy and food policy is required. For example it would be ironic in the extreme to find renewable energy projects on the surface, removing good agricultural land from production and at the same time find gas being extracted from the rocks beneath which will ultimately release more carbon dioxide in to the atmosphere. This just does not seem to make sense – but then when government gets involved with subsidising farming, renewable energy projects or conservation measures this very often seems to result in contradictory policies and unintended consequences.

James Stephen MRICS FAAV
Rural Practice Chartered Surveyor, Wells

T: 01749 683381