The Agricultural weather advisory panel met on 24 January in Ayr.
The panel heard about the Scottish Government’s social media campaign in partnership with RSABI, NFUS, Samaritans & Breathing Space to raise awareness of mental health in rural areas in the run up to Christmas.
The successful campaign had highlighted several personal cases and received favourable feedback. The panel noted that there is now a local Church of Scotland farming Minister in Ayrshire, specifically helping people in the rural community. SRUC plan to deliver 7 Farm Advisory Service weather resilience meetings in the South-West, including a ½ hour session on mental health in each meeting.
A MET Office weather update noted that the actual days of rain have more prolonged rain everyday with the west of Scotland the wetter (also more dull and overcast with drizzle on the other days with some sun in between the showers). Central and Eastern Scotland had been drier.
The number of recent storms have started in Rep of Ireland or gone to the south with some effects still felt in Scotland; wetter than average with mild temperatures.
The previous week had the most prolonged amount of snow since 2010 & 2013. Ayrshire and Lanarkshire received a lot of snow and the snow melt is causing some localised flooding.
The central belt is a slow responding catchment, where the snow melt will filter into the low lying areas and then into the reservoirs.
The slow responding catchment fills up the reservoirs more than any other method through snow melt in the spring. Forecast for the next 2 weeks was more of the same, unsettled, snow on the high hills and mild but not cold elsewhere.
A further explanation was given about the weather in Scotland which is affected by several major global factors (el Nino, la Nina, Atlantic Oscillation & Arctic Sea Ice), there are also smaller solar influences (oceans soaking up heat/eco systems of oceans and the global temperature with different theories on global warming.
The future of the weather in Scotland is uncertain; potentially it could be warmer/wetter summers and cold winters, or a more extreme climate with hotter and wetter spells and colder more severe winters.
The James Hutton institute is carrying out research about climate change, regarding global cycles & continent cycles and more discussion is envisaged about the effects on growing seasons and productivity.
A presentation was given by Julian Bell of SRUC on the interim results of their study on the straw market and the effects of the weather. The harvest has been poor. Some areas the crops have not been baled, straw imports have increased along with the cost.
From harvest to the end of the year average monthly GB straw prices had increased nearly double from the average of £70-£80/tonne, but some indications that the price may have eased slightly in the new year. The increase in prices is a result of supply and demand.
The logistics of haulage getting it to and from farm (in SW Scotland there is deficit of straw etc which would normally be sourced in E Scotland but is now being hauled from Yorkshire, the Midlands and Kent therefore increases the cost) There is more need for straw in the south west than other areas of Scotland.
The deficit of straw to use for bedding systems for cattle indoors in recent years has meant more suckler cow herds are going onto slats indoors now rather than straw bedding. Along with the increasing demand, costs of haulage, and the reality that some straw enters the energy market and is not being used for agriculture have meant some farmers have sold cattle which might otherwise have been overwintered on farm. Beef prices have remained firm though and margins have been maintained in most instances.
Information and discussion followed regarding wood fines and sawdust as alternatives for bedding and the different grading of wood fines from A-E, grading B-E can carry extraneous materials including toxins, paint, nails from recycled wood products/crates/pallets/mdf.Only Grade A wood fines or virgin sawdust should be used on farm. If using wood fines, farmers need to be aware of the quality they are purchasing.
The panel noted SAC reports that the quality of silage is variable, generally wet and acid silage but with lower energy in 2017 compared to 2016. Straw could be used to dry out the rations and alternative feed is being actively sought turnips/carrots/tatties & fodder beet to spin it out.
Horizon scanning suggests that last year’s wet weather could have continuing effects on 2018 calving, lambing and planting. The wet summer has increased the prevalence of fluke in both cattle and sheep.
In the short term the panel agreed to:
- continue to work with the MET office and Scottish Government on developing targeted sectoral, as well as geographical, forecasts to help individual agricultural sectors to plan better
- receive the full SRUC straw market report at the next meeting, and plan next steps for dissemination of the report’s findings
- work with SEPA to promote guidance to farmers on the grading and usage of wood fines as alternative bedding material
- encourage the use of the RSABI service and the Farm Advisory Service (FAS)
- instigate discussion with the James Hutton institute about their research on climate change, including more discussion about whether growing seasons, productivity and trends
The panel’s next meeting will be in early spring, in Perth.