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UK farmers 'vulnerable' to dry weather after last year's drought

By Emily Beament, Press Association Environment Correspondent

Farmers have warned they could be vulnerable to a lack of rain this summer after last year's drought and a dry winter.

While spring has had around average rainfall across the UK, in some parts of the country levels have been well below what would be expected in March, April and May.

East Anglia had only three-quarters of the normal rainfall for the period, Bedfordshire received just 65%, and the Isle of Wight saw 62% of the 1981-2010 average amount of rain, the Met Office said.

That comes on top of a dry winter which saw the UK as a whole receiving 77% of the long-term average rainfall over the months of December, January and February.

Guy Smith, deputy president of the National Farmers' Union who farms in north-east Essex, said farmers had been getting anxious over dry conditions in May before rain in the past few days.

This is a critical time for crops to be putting on yield, he said, with his wheat beginning to look stressed.

Recent rain had relieved the situation, he said, but he warned farmers could be in a precarious place if more hot and dry weather arrives.

He pointed to the drought of 1976, which came after a dry year.

He said: "Those of us old enough to remember 1976, which was the infamous drought year, the thing that made that really painful was it came on the back of 1975.

"A lot of us feel the drought we had last year - which was extreme - didn't really bite because there was water in the subsoil, but that's now gone.

"We feel the situation is more precarious, to move into a dryish pattern of weather so soon rings the alarm bells."

While most farm reservoirs have filled up since last year, some have not, and irrigation of "thirsty crops" such as potatoes and vegetables had started, he said.

He warned: "We're vulnerable if it turns into a hot, dry period, we're going to run out of water again, our sub-soils wouldn't be in that wet state like last year.

"We are in a precarious situation: 2018 came on the back of a wet period, but 2019 is on the back of a dry period, so it will exacerbate very quickly."

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