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Drought hits farmers in Harrogate district

Dairy farmers, in particular, are facing tough times as the heatwave continues.
Dairy farmers, in particular, are facing tough times as the heatwave continues.

Drought-hit farmers in Nidderdale fear tough times may continue into next year unless the summer’s long heatwave ends soon.

The long-running weather conditions are creating a double whammy effect on feed and forage, forcing farmers to eat into winter supplies while preventing new grass from growing.
Long-standing Dales dairy farmer Norman Shepherd, who has a herd of 240 dairy cows near Fellbeck, said he hadn’t seen anything like it since 1976.


He said: “The early onset of a hot summer this year has come on the back of a wet and cold spring coming late. In 1976 summer came later.
“Our forage supplies were already low but we’ve now lost weeks of grass growth we will never get back.
“I’ve had my cows on three-quarters winter diet for the last six weeks.
“Unless weather conditions become more favourable, people will be short of forage in the winter and there will be have no forage by spring.”


The situation has brought back memories of that famously hot long summer when the ruins of the sunken village of New Laithe became visible as the waters of Scar House Reservoir evaporated in the heat.
But then, as now, the effect on farmers’ livelihoods are being keenly felt.


Norman Shepherd, who has been farming for 45 years, said straw had doubled in price since the current heatwave started with knock-on effects across the farming industry whose effects were likely to be felt into next year.


He said: “It’s effecting everyone across the Dales - sheep, dairy and cattle farmers are all in the same boat.
“I know of some farmers in the Dales who have been cutting rushes on their land to use as bedding instead of straw."


While Milk production has fallen, the price of milk is up.
Meanwhile. the price of beef has collapsed thanks partly to the lack of feed to cattle.


This veteran Dales farmer says two things might help:
If supermarkets pass on the two pence per litre rise in the price of milk.
If the Government steps into help.


Norman said: “I’m not sure the Government really realises how bad the situation is. They will have to do something about it.
“One thing they could do is to stop burning so much straw in power stations across the country which they’re doing to get carbon emissiosn down.
“They’re burning thousands of tonnes of it.”


The National Farmers’ Union may have hosted a drought summit with government officials in London last week but what farmers in the Dales are praying for most is a week of steady rain to to re-invigorate grass growth before the growing season winds down at the end of the month.


Farmers were boosted recently when the Environment Agency announced a relaxation of rules to help farmers access extra water.


But Paul Tompkins, vice chairman of the NFU’s national dairy board, said dairy farmers were struggling to plan for beyond the summer.
“We don’t have enough fodder for our cows this winter but the weather can change. Come September or October we might have lots of forage but the trouble is planning for winter. We aren’t certain what our final tally will be at the end of the growing season.”

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