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Brassicas struggle under Lincolnshire drought

Growers are ‘not at panic stage yet’ but say crops will struggle without forecasted showers at the end of this week

Brassicas struggle under Lincolnshire drought

Rainfall levels across the UK in April

Source: Met Office

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Brassica crops in Lincolnshire are struggling after April saw "significantly" lower levels of rainfall than expected.

Fears of a national “drought” have been reported by some national newspapers, while growers are pinning hopes on forecasted showers in key growing regions for this weekend.

Potatoes are among other crops set to suffer if dry conditions continue, with some suppliers suggesting they may review regional production if weather patterns become more consistent.

Managing director of brassica grower Lincolnshire Field Products, Martin Tate, said rainfall in April was “significantly down on what we expect and need”.

“Mature crops that are ready for harvest in late May-early June are certainly struggling with the lack of rain,” he said. “Plants due to be planted later in the season will mature on time as we are still able to plough moisture, unless the dry conditions continue.

“If we get rain in the next few days, the end of May will change dramatically. We’re not quite at the panic stage, we need to keep a watchful eye and if it gets worse we need to voice some concerns.”

The UK’s Met Office said the UK as a whole has seen just 47 per cent of the average April rainfall. Scotland has been the wettest area with 65mm and southern England the driest, with 16mm. Middlesex, Mid Lothian and Fife were the driest historical counties with just 12 per cent of the rainfall expected in April.

Chairman of the Brassica Growers’ Association, Matt Rawson, said: “Categorically, Lincolnshire and the East are dry at the moment. But, we are resourceful and we are doing our best.

“It isn’t just Lincolnshire, Scotland is also very dry. It’s a worry, but it’s not a concern. We perhaps need to look at irrigation or different varieties.”

Growers in Cornwall have a more optimistic outlook for the season, after recent rainfall compensated for a late planting season – crops are now 10 days behind, compared to four weeks. MD of Southern England Farms (SEF), Greville Richards, said retailers are putting increased programmes in Cornwall, due to ongoing rainfall pressures in Lincolnshire.

“The week before last we had heavy rain, and we had another 13-14ml on Friday night, with showers expected for the rest of the week,” he said.

“It’s the third summer in a row that Lincolnshire has struggled with rainfall. One crop that is getting a lot of concern is broccoli – they need a lot of moisture, they get stressed easily.”

Potatoes could also be hit by ongoing low rainfall levels in the eastern counties. Managing director of leading potato supplier Branston, James Truscott, said: “Planting has gone well but now that the majority of seed is in the ground, we could certainly do with some rain and if it doesn’t come reasonably soon, this could impact quality and yield for the upcoming season.

“Regarding the longer term, more farmers in the east have invested in irrigation in order to avoid the negative impact of a drier year.

“At this stage we don’t see any regional shift in potato production but if changing weather patterns become more consistent, we might review this,” Truscott added.

Tate said brassica production isn’t traditionally geared up for irrigation, as the plant’s waxy leaves converts dew into moisture. But he said: “We’re not getting that difference in temperature so there’s no condensation.

“We might need to look at irrigation in the future, but the problem is there isn’t sufficient water in the UK. We’re not far away from restrictions on irrigation in some parts of the country.”

While it’s by no means the beginniong of the end of brassica production in Lincolnshire, Tate said growers will need to adapt, and grow a broad range of varieties that can cope with varying degrees of stress.

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