Farmers keep their cool over winter warning

Rob Livesey.
Rob Livesey.

by Nan Macfarlane

FARMERS in the Scottish Borders and North Northumberland are keeping cool in the face of warnings of extreme weather this winter.

30/11/10, TSPL, Scotsman, Evening News, Snow, Weather, Edinburgh and West Lothian. Shepherd Alex Gunn feeds sheep at  Auchinoon, West Lothian.   Pic Ian Rutherford

30/11/10, TSPL, Scotsman, Evening News, Snow, Weather, Edinburgh and West Lothian. Shepherd Alex Gunn feeds sheep at Auchinoon, West Lothian. Pic Ian Rutherford

Some long term forecasts are predicting the weather could be even more severe than last winter’s record low temperatures and heavy snowfalls but livestock farmers in the area are so far staying calm.

“We feel in a better position than last year because we have got plenty of fodder this time - that was the issue last year,” points out Rob Livesey who has 1100 ewes at Firth Farm, Lilliesleaf, and who is also chair of NFU Scotland’s livestock committee

“The stock sector in this area has made a reasonable amount of fodder this summer so we feel less threatened by the prospect of a cold winter this year.”

An exceptionally cold and wet spring last year resulted in low yields of silage and hay in the summer while the deep snow at the start of this winter meant fodder and bedding stocks were used up long before lambing and calving were even on the horizon.

It meant that straw rocketed in price from £45 per tonne last year to between £90 and £100 per tonne in February this year. Hay soared from just under £100 per tonne to over £200 per tonne while silage increased from £12 to £25 a bale.

However, with fodder stocks much higher this autumn, farmers are fairly confident they can survive more icy blasts.

This is fortunate as the amateur forecaster who correctly predicted last year’s cold weather chaos has said this winter will be even worse.

Meteorologist James Madden, who is based in the north east of England, says this coming winter will break all records.

“I now fully expect records to be broken,” he said. “It is therefore vital to start preparing now.”

The bad weather would be the result, he says, of low solar activity and the fact that the Gulf Stream, which brings warmer temperatures to Britain, appears to be moving further away.

What is more, he says, this movement of the Gulf Stream means that exceptionally cold winters are here to stay for the foreseeable future.

“Unless I am mistaken and the textbooks are wrong, the UK will without a doubt see progressively worsening winters due to its latitude, as will other European countries that benefit from this valuable heat source,” he says.

The good news is that the outlook from professional forecasters is slightly cheerier.

While we are likely to see colder than average temperatures in December, the chances of a repeat of last winter’s extreme sub-zero temperatures are slim, forecasters claim.

Average temperatures in December for Scotland and the north-east of England are likely to be around 2.1 degree centigrade or slightly above which is up to one degree colder than average but warmer than the average last year according to forecasting company Netweather.tv.

November and December are likely to have less rainfall than average with warmer, wetter weather due in January and colder temperatures returning in February.

“I wouldn’t say it is absolutely nailed down but the chances of another extremely cold winter similar to last year are around 10 per cent at best,” says Paul Michaelwaite, director of Netweather.tv.

The Met Office has also said there is no need for alarm with speculation that another extreme winter was on its way being premature.

“These headlines bear no relation to the kinds of weather that forecasters at the Met Office are currently expecting – there is no need for alarm,” said John Hirst, chief executive of the Met Office.

“In fact, the scientific capability does not exist to allow such extremes to be identified on a long-range timescale – no forecaster can say whether we will see a week of -20 degrees centigrade in Manchester in the second week of December. This does not mean that harsh winter conditions are not possible, just that they cannot be identified at the moment.”