I spoke with my Dad on the phone about the weather recently, asking him if he, or any of the farmers he knows, are noticing the effects of changing seasons and more extreme weather, and whether they are worried about it. The only thing he could say he’d really noticed was that more and more things are able to be grown in the South of England that, when he was young, wouldn’t have been at all possible. There are vineyards, for example. 

So I asked my childhood best friend, who is now a PhD researcher specialising in Himalayan glaciers at Leeds University, what the scientists in her department predict for the future of agriculture in the UK under a changing climate. She asked around for input, and wrote up what she’d gathered, which she has given permission for me to quote below:

“Even with radical action to cut greenhouse gas emissions, some impacts of climate change are inevitable. Across the globe, human-induced atmospheric warming and associated shifts in rainfall patterns have already made extreme weather events more likely or more severe. In the UK these extreme events are closely linked to shifts in the jet stream, a high level westerly airflow that dictates much of UK weather. Our climate system is hugely inter-connected, and these shifts are largely driven by amplified warming in the Arctic and its dwindling sea-ice cover (which has reduced 12% per decade since 1979, the start of the satellite era)1.

Climate change will bring more unpredictable weather, with agriculture one of the most vulnerable sectors. If warming continues unmitigated, the UK may experience growing seasons >5 °C warmer and 140 mm drier by 21002. This could favour arable over grassland farming, completely transforming the UK landscape as we know it. UK vineyards could gain from warmer and wetter weather, though modified growing seasons and heightened frost risk could lead to increased losses3. In the near term, winter flooding will increase in intensity and frequency, putting crops and livestock at risk. Parts of Wales and Northern England that have experienced recent flooding almost every year may soon lose farmers, particularly as land and buildings become impossible to insure. Higher winds could leave crops rotting in fields, as crops must be upright to be harvested by mechanical pickers. The UK will also experience longer and more persistent heatwaves in the summer.  All future climate scenarios show more extreme and unpredictable weather, meaning the agriculture industry will have to adapt.  This may be through using drought-resistant alternatives, or through growing different crops entirely.  Many farmers across the UK have turned to more nature-based solutions. Planting trees not only sequesters carbon, but also reduces and slows flood waters on agricultural land.”

- Anya Schlich-Davies (private correspondence, 24th February 2020)