Trouble in store for agriculture: Crops and gardens
join the economy in not growing

Special report: The harsh weather has led to the loss of livestock and problems in both vegetable and cereal production

For many of us, the gloom of Britain's six-month winter will finally be over this week when warmer temperatures herald the actual arrival of spring. But for those in the farming, horticultural and food industries, the misery of what has been dubbed the "springter" is set to continue for weeks. Rural bankruptcy, soaring food prices and lack of consumer confidence are warning signs that the economy could tip into triple-dip recession later this month.

With soil temperatures still at winter levels, garden centres and nurseries are reporting their worst Easter for years, as green-fingered consumers failed to spend money on plants they cannot get into the ground. As many crops need to be sown by the middle of April before the optimal sowing period ends, this has led to fears that unless the weather improves significantly in the next 10 days, farming in the UK will be in crisis.

Farmers have suffered catastrophic losses of livestock due to freezing temperatures and drifting snow, with the national body responsible for collecting carcasses revealing a 16 per cent rise in dead sheep and nearly 6 per cent in dead cattle, compared with this time last year.

The National Fallen Stock Company (NFSCo) said it expected thousands more dead lambs and cows that were hidden in drifts to be revealed over the coming days as temperatures rise, and it could take until May to uncover the true scale of the losses. In order to cope with the huge numbers of carcasses, ministers have approved an emergency opt-out of EU rules (imposed after the BSE crisis) banning the burial of dead animals on farmland.

The number of sheep that died between January and March this year in the UK is almost 150,000, an increase of nearly 20,000 on the same period last year. The figure for cattle is more than 82,000 in the first three months of this year, an increase of nearly 5,000. The NFSCo said these figures excluded dead animals in the most badly-hit regions, such as Cumbria and Scotland, because snow would still be hiding carcasses.

Michael Seals, the NFSCo chairman, said the company was trying to help farmers in the worst hit regions, by coordinating compensation packages from the Government and offering cheaper prices for bulk collections.

Yesterday, it emerged that because the bad weather has ravaged crops so badly Britain is expected to become a net importer of wheat later this year for the first time in a decade. Peter Kendall, the National Farmers Union president, said last year's wet summer meant more than two million tonnes of wheat was lost and the cold winter could threaten this season. Mr Kendall said farmers were now facing a "perfect storm" of problems because of the cold, including the loss of livestock and produce and mounting debts. Although the wheat shortage is unlikely to affect the price of bread – because it contributes to only 10 per cent of the cost – there are likely to be shortages of other crops due to the cold weather, which in turn could lead to higher prices.

Guy Poskitt, a member of the NFU's Horticulture and Potatoes Board and himself a carrot farmer in Goole, East Yorkshire, said: "Nothing is growing and the prospect of early crops or high yielding summer crops looks low. Another year of shortage is highly likely and I think planted areas are down generally, due to poor returns."

Tim Papworth, a potato farmer from Norfolk, said: "Nothing has moved on the land for a while, we are well behind on planting potatoes and drilling peas, which will push the whole season back."

Anthony Snell, a soft fruit farmer in Herefordshire, said that while it was good for his crops to have chill during the winter, planting and ground preparation was "way behind". He added: "Any prospect of an early start to the British season for soft fruit is now a distant memory. Soft fruit crops under polytunnels and fleece are not growing due to the extreme conditions and low light levels. Yields and production will inevitably be down," he added. "But there will be a consistent programme of production through the season to ensure we have enough soft fruit for every summer barbeque and event."

Next month's Chelsea Flower Show, which marks its 100th anniversary, could also be badly hit. The Royal Horticultural Society said some growers and designers were struggling to get plants ready in time for the event, which begins in six weeks. Jinny Blom, who is creating the B&Q garden in conjunction with Prince Harry's charity Sentebale, is among several designers experiencing problems in getting plants ready. And the Woodland Trust reported that spring sightings of ladybirds have fallen tenfold since last year, from 1,169 to 119, while numbers of cuckoos and hedgehogs are also substantially lower.

The Easter weekend, traditionally the busiest time of year for garden centres, has been one of the worst for trade in recent years. A number of large garden centres have reported sales down by as much as 50 per cent. Steve Ashworth, managing director of the Wyevale Nurseries chain, said sales to garden centres were down by 50 per cent in comparison with March last year, while its overall sales were down by 30 per cent. He said: "Our team had virtually nothing to do over the Easter period; we stood many people down."

Robby Ward, owner of the Alleyn Park Garden Centre in south London, said its sales were down 46 per cent on this time last year. "It has been a horrendous March," he said. "We have cut down on most products and are being very careful in what plants we are buying in. People who would normally spend money in March [with us] have spent it on something else. We will never recoup that."

Additional reporting by Natalie Glanvill

Arts and Entertainment
Sydney and Melbourne are locked in a row over giant milk crates
art
News
Netherlands' goalkeeper Tim Krul fails to make a save from Costa Rica's midfielder Celso Borges during a penalty shoot-out in the quarter-final between Netherlands and Costa Rica during the 2014 FIFA World Cup
newsGoalkeepers suffer from 'gambler’s fallacy' during shoot-outs
News
A scene from the video shows students mock rioting
newsEnd-of-year leaver's YouTube film features playground gun massacre
Travel
travel
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Voices
A family sit and enjoy a quiet train journey
voices conversations is an offensive act
News
Two giraffes pictured on Garsfontein Road, Centurion, South Africa.
i100
News
Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleActor, from House of Cards and Benidorm, was 68
News
i100This Instagram photo does not prove Russian army is in Ukraine
News
Morrissey pictured in 2013
people
Sport
sportVan Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Environment
View from the Llanberis Track to the mountain lake Llyn
Du’r Arddu
environmentA large chunk of Mount Snowdon, in north Wales, is up for sale
Life and Style
Martha Stewart wrote an opinion column for Time magazine this week titled “Why I Love My Drone”
lifeLifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot... to take photos of her farm
News
i100
Life and Style
The director of Wall-E Andrew Stanton with Angus MacLane's Lego model
gadgetsDesign made in Pixar animator’s spare time could get retail release
News
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
Environment
Tyred out: should fair weather cyclists have a separate slow lane?
environmentFormer Labour minister demands 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists
News
people
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Sales and Office Administrator – Sports Media

    £23,000: Sauce Recruitment: A global leader in sports and entertainment is now...

    C++ Software Engineer - Hounslow, West London - C++ - to £60K +

    £40000 - £60000 per annum + Pension, Healthcare : Deerfoot IT Resources Limite...

    VB.NET and C# developer (VB.NET,C#,ASP.NET)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: VB.NET a...

    Visitor Experience volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary role: Old Royal Naval College: To assist the Visitor Experien...

    Day In a Page

    Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

    Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

    Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
    Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

    Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

    When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
    5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

    In grandfather's footsteps

    5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
    Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

    Martha Stewart has flying robot

    The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
    Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

    Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

    Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
    A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

    A tale of two presidents

    George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

    The dining car makes a comeback

    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
    Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

    Gallery rage

    How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

    Eye on the prize

    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
    Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

    Women's rugby

    Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

    How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

    As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
    We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

    We will remember them

    Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
    Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices