Farmers and growers in Wales six months on from drought conditions

SIX months ago farmers in Wales were starting to look at the sky and wonder when it was going to rain.

Growers and gardeners were watering at full tilt – and all this after unprecedented floods in South Wales in February.

Carmarthenshire dairy farmer Dai Gravell, speaking in May, said: “Grasses should be growing like billy-o, but they’re withering in this heat and dryness.”

Pembrokeshire farmer Tom Rees said his crops were holding up, all things considered, but added: “We need 30mm to 50mm of rain as soon as possible to set us up.”

Joseph Atkin, head gardener at Aberglasney Gardens, in Carmarthenshire’s Towy Valley, said: “We have never done this much watering before June.”

And Tom O’Kane, grower and director at a community-supported agriculture scheme in Gower, said the dry conditions were becoming a problem.
“Another month of this would put a lot of pressure on us,” he said.

And exceptionally dry spring it was.
At one point Welsh Water deployed tankers to keep up with household demand. Wild fires burned out of control in some areas.
The tables have turned since then, with September the only month since May when less rain than normal fell in Wales, based on average monthly totals between 1981 and 2010.

For Mr Rees, who grows cereal crops and rape seed oil on his 700-acre farm near Camrose, Pembrokeshire, it has been a bit of a mixed bag up to now.
Crops sown last winter, he said, plus the rape seed oil, had done “pretty well”.
The spring-sown barley was “was just about acceptable”, while the spring-sown wheat was probably under the average yield.
He said prices for barley – which goes to the brewing industry or is used for animal feed – were low.
Wheat prices have fared a bit better.

Mr Rees also has some cattle and sheep on the farm.
“The worst thing was the lack of straw yield,” he said, referring to the waste product of corn.
The 32-year-old drills his winter crops in the autumn. They are now in the ground.
A repeat of last winter’s exceptionally heavy rainfall wouldn’t be ideal.
Speaking in May, he said: “I remember when it started raining – 2pm on September 21 and it didn’t stop, basically.”

Mr O’Kane, who grows a range of vegetables and herbs for 125 customers at Cae Tan CSA, near Parkmill, said 2020 had turned out okay.
“Overall the season has been good,” he said. “Nothing has done exceptionally well, but nothing failed.”
Peppers, aubergines, tomatoes and cucumbers have all been harvested from the polytunnels, to be replaced by beans, salad, parsley, coriander and carrots.
Crops are also being harvested from the ground outside, and drainage areas dug in particularly wet areas.
“You almost forget how dry it was,” he said. “It felt dramatically dry – it was quite worrying for some people.”

At Aberglasney Gardens, head gardener Mr Atkin also reflected on the unusual spring.
He said: “We had a big drought and it went under the radar, what with everything else that was happening.”
He added: “Everything came through for us all right. We had a monumental task watering – it was by brute determination rather than the weather being good.
“The last four weeks or so have been particularly wet, but we didn’t get rained off too much in September and October.”

Mr Atkin said the main job at this time of year was cutting back all the herbaceous borders, and putting the “garden to bed” for the winter.
Compost and mulch will be added to the soil.
The Llangathen visitor attraction has around 15 staff on site at any one time.
Mr Atkin said he wouldn’t want to be anywhere else, rain or shine.

“It’s the best job in the world,” he said. “I wouldn’t change it for anything.”

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