Scotland farming: Sheep welfare and poor harvest concerns as 'unsettled forecast' continues into August

Some parts of Scotland saw 30 to 40 per cent more rainfall in July following a particularly dry spell earlier in the year, according to agriculture consultants.

Scottish farmers are “up against it with the weather” after the country received 150 per cent of its average rainfall for July, experts have said.

While August has brought the first few dry days in over a month in some parts of the country, farmers have said the “unsettled forecast” ahead is continuing to impact the harvest.

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The unseasonably wet weather has made it difficult for farmers to cut crops including spring and winter barley, and near impossible to bale hay, which requires often two or more days of dry weather back-to-back to cut the grass, let it dry out to then roll it up.

Farmers are struggling to bale their hay because of unseasonably wet weather since the beginning of July (pic: Anthony Devlin)Farmers are struggling to bale their hay because of unseasonably wet weather since the beginning of July (pic: Anthony Devlin)
Farmers are struggling to bale their hay because of unseasonably wet weather since the beginning of July (pic: Anthony Devlin)

There are also delays to sheep shearing because of the wet weather, which is presenting an animal welfare concern, some farmers have said.

Mhairi Dawson, the National Farmers Union Scotland region manager for Dumfries and Galloway and who runs her own farm with sheep and cattle, said with the mild temperatures at this time of year comes an increase in flies.

This can bring a high risk of flystrike – a condition where flies lay their eggs in the sheep’s wool – to flocks that have not yet been sheared.

"The wet weather is having a huge impact on the sheep sector,” she said.

"When the wool is wet, you can’t remove it because it’s easier on the animal, the person shearing and the machine if the wool is dry.

"This is causing cases of flystrike and just real heartache for farmers who want to get their sheep shorn.”

Ms Dawson said there has been a couple of dry days in the region in August which has led to “a lot of activity” in the fields where farmers are trying to harvest what they can.

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"The problem is we still have a very unsettled forecast ahead so it’s making it a very challenging time for farmers, especially after having the almost too dry weather earlier this year followed by a very wet July.

"It’s a lot of stress on the crops.”

The farmer said there may be financial implications with the cost of cereals going up more than they have since the Ukraine-Russia war due to reduced availability.

Echoing her concerns was Lorna Mckelvey, a livestock farmer in Dumfries and Galloway, who has to buy in grain and straw for her cattle.

"We don’t grow anything here so we rely on others producing grain and straw for bedding and feed,” she said.

“Just recently grain went up £20 per tonne, but it’s going to go up even more because of this bad weather we’ve had.”

It hasn’t all been negative though.

David Seed, who farms in the Lothians, Stirling and the Borders said despite July being noticeably wet, August has seen drier days that have seen successful harvests.

"July was challenging but come August 9 we’ve managed to harvest 1,000 acres of wheat so we’ve been steaming ahead on a good day.

"We have been doing 7am to 2am days to make the most of the drier weather which we can’t sustain for long, but it’s good to get going while we can.”

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Some parts of Scotland, including Aberdeenshire, experienced 30 to 40 per cent more rainfall in July following a particularly dry spell earlier in the year, said agriculture consultant David Ross from SAC Consulting.

He said a consequence of this weather pattern is a mix of ready to harvest crop and new, green regrowth coming through which can reduce its overall quality.

“We are up against it with the weather at the moment,” he said.

"July was the wettest I have seen for a long time and August seems to be going the same way so far.

"We need a month of sunshine to catch up."

Mr Ross said farm yields are average overall, but this is in the context of much higher input costs over the last year with the rise of fuel, fertiliser and feed prices.

Grahame Madge, a Met Office spokesman, said: “During July, Scotland received 150 per cent of its average July rainfall.

"Areas like Dumfries fared worse as it recorded 178 per cent of its usual rainfall: nearly 200mm for the month.

“Scotland fared relatively better than other parts. Northern Ireland recorded more rainfall during July than any previous July since 1836 when records began.”

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The few dry days over the last month has impacted farmers “the length and breadth of the UK,” according to Nicola Cannon, a professor of agriculture at the Royal Agricultural University.

She said many farming on British soil do not cut their hay in early summer if they are signed up to the environmental scheme Mid Tier, which prohibits cutting hay before July 1 to allow plants to flower and set seed.

Farmers who haven’t signed up were able to cut and bale their hay in mid to late June when the weather was hot and dry, but for those who did delay there is now a real problem, she said.

“Excessively wet or dry conditions impact how plants grow, ripen, and store, which then in turn affects how they then taste for both humans and animals," she said.

“Even if the product is being harvested to be used for animals, it still needs to store well without going mouldy as this not only reduces the quality and desirability of the product but also can make it a fire risk.

“We all know the phrase ‘make hay while the sun shines’ and the reason for this is that ideally grass is cut for hay and dries quickly on a warm and breezy day. It is no different to drying your laundry on a washing line - the thicker and the wetter the clothes, and the stiller or duller the weather, the longer it takes for them to dry.

"It is very stressful for farmers anticipating when they can harvest as well as the associated worry about reduced crop quality coupled with increased costs and lower financial returns as the grain often needs to be dried.”



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