Extreme weather events such as heatwaves and the so-called ‘Beast from the East’ contributed to £161m in losses for farmers across Scotland during the 2017-18 financial year, new research from WWF Scotland has found.
Publicly published today (11 April), the charity’s ‘economic impact of extreme weather on Scottish agriculture’ report states that 6% of the Scottish farming sector’s total financial output was lost due to “severe” weather during the 12-month period, as crop yields decreased and livestock either became sick or died.
The document, produced in conjunction with consultancy Ecosulis and analysts Farmlytics, claims that the biggest financial loss during this timeframe was realised in the sheep sector, which lost £45m as cold and hot weather, as well as fires and water stress, contributed to “widespread” animal deaths and illnesses and damages to farmland.
The wheat, beef and barley sectors also experienced large financial losses, which stood at £34m, £28m and £26m respectively. The report states that yields in the wheat and barley sectors were “significantly” adversely affected, with malt barley prices rising by as much as £50 per tonne during 2018.
As for dairy, the document reveals that losses to individual dairy farmers reached up to £23,000 during the period analysed – a burden which is believed to have stopped some smaller farms from trading temporarily. Potatoes were found to be the only of Scotland’s main farming sub-sectors which remained “largely” unaffected by extreme weather during the period analysed, while there was not enough data available to track its impact on horticulture and soft fruits.
Costs accounted for in the report include animal sicknesses and deaths; damage to buildings and farmland caused by heavy snow, strong wind and summer fires; burst pipes and water scarcity, and increasing animal feed prices. WWF Scotland claims that these trends were likely to have been compounded by uncertainty surrounding Brexit, but has not yet collected enough data to quantify this assumption.
“Farmers are increasingly on the frontline of climate change, struggling with ever more unpredictable seasons and extreme weather,” WWF Scotland’s food policy manager Sheila George said.
“Last year’s extremes will soon be the norm, rather than the exception, and that will have huge implications for farmers and the environment. That’s why it’s so important the Scottish Government takes action now to support our agriculture sector to adapt to the challenges ahead.”
George added that while the mildness of winter 2018-2019 has contributed to a boost in crop yields on last year’s statistics, this trend is unlikely to continue, as climate change continues to contribute to varying seasonal weather and timeframes.
It’s getting hot in here
The sweltering heat that hit the UK last summer was made 30 times more likely by human-caused climate change, according to the Met Office. During the high temperatures experienced between June and August 2018, hundreds more early deaths than usual occurred, while farmers struggled for water and hay and thousands of houses suffered subsidence.
These negative impacts of the European heatwave were also felt further afield, with new temperature records having been set in Africa and cities in Australia, Taiwan, Georgia and the west coast of US and freak blazes having broken out in Lapland and elsewhere in the Arctic circle.
The Met Office claims that unless rapid cuts to both the UK and the world’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are made as soon as possible, similar heatwaves are likely to occur at least every other year by 2050. An earlier analysis of the summer heat in Europe also found that climate change had increased the risk of more frequent summer heatwaves, though it looked at the hottest three-day periods, not the whole season.
In a bid to help humanity prevent potentially catastrophic levels of warming, the UK Government is currently asking the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) for advice on how best to bolster its carbon reduction aims and create a “net-zero” economy by 2050.
The request was made in the wake of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) landmark report on global warming, which found that limiting warming to 1.5C would require global carbon pollution to be cut by 45% by 2030 – compared with a 20% cut under the 2C pathway – and come down to zero by 2050, compared with 2075 for 2C. The CCC’s advice is due to be published in by the end of May, with several businesses, including BT, Aldi UK and Ireland and Interface, having already taken the lead and set pre-2050 net-zero goals.