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

News
people
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Keys to success: Andrew and Julian Lloyd Webber
arts + entsMrs Bach had too many kids to write the great man's music, says Julian Lloyd Webber
Voices
Left: An illustration of the original Jim Crowe, played by TD Rice Right: A Couple dressed as Ray and Janay Rice
voices

By performing as African Americans or Indians, white people get to play act a kind of 'imaginary liberation', writes Michael Mark Cohen

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Hand out press photograph/film still from the movie Mad Max Fury Road (Downloaded from the Warner Bro's media site/Jasin Boland/© 2014 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.)
films'You have to try everything and it’s all a process of elimination, but ultimately you find your path'
Arts and Entertainment
Imelda Staunton as Dolores Umbridge in the Harry Potter films
books

New essay by JK Rowling went live on Pottermore site this morning

News
Russia Today’s new UK channel began broadcasting yesterday. Discussions so far have included why Britons see Russia as ‘the bad guy’
news

New UK station Russia Today gives a very bizarre view of Britain

News
people

Top Gear presenter is no stranger to foot-in-mouth controversy

Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch at the premiere of The Imitation Game at the BFI London Film Festival
filmsKeira Knightley tried to miss The Imitation Game premiere to watch Bake Off
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 Manager - Commercial Cable & Wire - UK

    £60,000 - £75,000: Recruitment Genius: As a top tier supplier to the major Aer...

    ORNC Visitor Experience Volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary work: Old Royal Naval College: Join our team of friendly volu...

    Junior Application Support Engineer (ERP / SSRS)

    £23000 - £30000 per annum + pension, 25days holiday: Ashdown Group: An industr...

    IT Systems Analyst / Application Support Engineer (ERP / SSRS)

    £23000 - £30000 per annum + pension, 25days holiday: Ashdown Group: An industr...

    Day In a Page

    The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

    The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

    Commons debate highlights growing cross-party consensus on softening UK drugs legislation, unchanged for 43 years
    The camera is turned on tabloid editors in Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter'

    Gotcha! The camera is turned on tabloid editors

    Hugh Grant says Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter' documentary will highlight issues raised by Leveson
    Fall of the Berlin Wall: It was thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell

    Fall of the Berlin Wall

    It was thanks to Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell
    Halloween 2014: What makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?

    What makes ouija boards and demon dolls scary?

    Ouija boards, demon dolls, evil children and clowns are all classic tropes of horror, and this year’s Halloween releases feature them all. What makes them so frightening, decade after decade?
    A safari in modern Britain: Rose Rouse reveals how her four-year tour of Harlesden taught her as much about the UK as it did about NW10

    Rose Rouse's safari in modern Britain

    Rouse decided to walk and talk with as many different people as possible in her neighbourhood of Harlesden and her experiences have been published in a new book
    Welcome to my world of no smell and odd tastes: How a bike accident left one woman living with unwanted food mash-ups

    'My world of no smell and odd tastes'

    A head injury from a bicycle accident had the surprising effect of robbing Nell Frizzell of two of her senses

    Matt Parker is proud of his square roots

    The "stand-up mathematician" is using comedy nights to preach maths to big audiences
    Paul Scholes column: Beating Manchester City is vital part of life at Manchester United. This is first major test for Luke Shaw, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao – it’s not a game to lose

    Paul Scholes column

    Beating City is vital part of life at United. This is first major test for Shaw, Di Maria and Falcao – it’s not a game to lose
    Frank Warren: Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing

    Frank Warren column

    Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing
    Adrian Heath interview: Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room

    Adrian Heath's American dream...

    Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room
    Simon Hart: Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

    Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

    Manuel Pellegrini’s side are too good to fail and derby allows them to start again, says Simon Hart
    Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

    A Syrian general speaks

    A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
    ‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

    ‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

    Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
    Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

    Fall of the Berlin Wall

    History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
    How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

    Turn your mobile phone into easy money

    There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes