Drought worrying farmers

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The Island was today due to enter an absolute drought – a period of 15 consecutive days with no measurable rain – and the arid conditions are expected to last until at least early next week.

Dairy farmers are dipping into forage supplies to keep cows producing milk as grass is no longer growing, while arable farmers are having to turn to labour-intensive irrigation to water crops on a daily basis.

‘We’ve been in this situation before when we have gone 15 consecutive days without rain but the big difference this time is the high temperatures we have been experiencing for such a long time,’ Andrew Le Gallais, the chairman of Jersey Dairy, said. ‘This is making a fundamental difference in reducing grass growth at this time of the year when we want to see our cows outside grazing on fresh grass. Our cows are still outside but we are having to augment their diet with additional food, which is making life very challenging for dairy farmers.’

Farmers gather grass to turn into silage four to five times from late spring to early autumn to stockpile forage supplies for the winter when the Island’s herds go indoors. They also produce silage (fermented, high-moisture fodder) from maize and barley.

‘It is not ideal weather and we are in desperate need of some significant rainfall,’ dairy farmer Tom Perchard said. ‘We have been fortunate so far as we had plenty of forage left over from last year which we are feeding to our cows but I know some farmers who are already feeding their cattle forage from this year.’

A high priority in the hot weather, he added, is to make sure cows have plenty of water so farmers are having to fill tankers more frequently to take out to their stock, in particular groups of heifers (young cows that are not yet producing milk) who stay out in the fields for months until they calve. Their diet is also having to be topped up with commercially-produced foodstuff while fresh grass is in such short supply.

Mr Le Gallais said unless the weather breaks soon milk production could dip, though dairy farmers are committed to maintaining the Island’s supplies.

‘From Jersey Dairy’s point of view milk production is on budget but it may dip if there is not enough rain soon to grow the grass enough,’ he said. ‘It is extremely challenging at the moment but our cows are being well fed and they are still outside.’

Asked if the extra costs would have to be passed on to the consumer he said it was too early to say.

The Island’s biggest vegetable grower Charlie Gallichan, who heads Woodside Farms, said that unless there was significant prolonged rainfall soon farmers would be in real trouble.

‘Things are really bad as we are having to water everything we can including onions, carrots, main-crop potatoes and tender stem broccoli,’ he said. ‘While we are just about okay at the moment the situation will become far more worrying if it does not rain soon.’

Farmers in the UK are also facing tough times as rivers dry up and water authorities impose hosepipe bans in areas where there has been little rainfall for two months.

The Island’s overall water capacity currently stands at 82 per cent or 120 days supply.

The UK Met Office is predicting the heatwave will continue into August. While their local counterparts were reluctant to commit that far ahead, they said it was unlikely that the local situation would change as drastically as farmers needed it to.

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