Bone-dry Britain faces crop shortages (but fantastic wine): Farmers warn potatoes, onions, carrots and lettuce are in serious risk due to water restrictions… but heatwave proves perfect for blueberries and English plonk

  • Potatoes, onions, carrots and lettuce are suffering in extended dry weather
  • And authorities are restricting irrigation licences to preserve water supply
  • The lack of rain is likely to lead to smaller yields over the next few months 
  • Farmers are also planting less for future harvesting of winter vegetables
  • But blueberries are doing well and vineyard owners are positive about crops

Britain is facing crop shortages due to a lack of water, farmers say – with potatoes, onions, carrots and lettuce all suffering amid the extended dry weather.

Crops already in the ground are being affected by the conditions, made worse by authorities restricting irrigation licences in order to preserve water supply.

The lack of rain is likely to lead to smaller yields over the next few months – and farmers are also planting less for future harvesting of winter vegetables.

This is because of the weather but also the rising costs of production – including energy bills, transportation and packaging – making it less profitable for growers.

However things are looking much better for blueberries, with the hot weather having doubled the harvest this summer. And British vineyard owners are predicting the record-breaking weather could yield the best wine this country has ever produced.

But Tom Bradshaw, deputy president of the National Farmers’ Union, warned water had become a ‘critical issue’ and that ‘the writing is on the wall’ for some crops.

Farmers say potato yields are likely to be ‘well below average’ amid the dry weather in Britain

The National Farmers’ Union warned that onion yields are also likely to be ‘well below average’

He told The Grocer: ‘I can’t see how potato yields are going to be anything but well below average. Onion yields the same.

‘Carrots and lettuce are in the same boat as the hot weather has had really severe impacts on them.’

Speaking to MailOnline today, he added: ‘The impacts of this prolonged spell of dry weather are hugely challenging for many farms across the country and causing concern for all farming sectors. It highlights the urgent need for government and its agencies to better plan for and manage the nation’s water resources. 

‘This will help build resilience into the farming sector and provide investment opportunities for irrigation equipment and to build more on-farm reservoirs.’

Mr Bradshaw continued: ‘The lack of rain means crops such as sugar beet and maize are showing signs of stress, while there are challenges for farmers needing to irrigate field veg and potatoes. 

‘To help, the Environment Agency has launched measures to support flexible abstraction and this will potentially give some farmers the ability to trade volumes of water with other farmers.

‘The dry weather has also severely hampered grass growth which could hit feed supplies for the winter, adding additional costs to livestock farming businesses at a time when costs are continuing to increase significantly.

‘With the forecast predicting more dry weather in the coming weeks, we will continue to monitor for any impacts on UK food production.’

Mr Bradshaw added that while retailers often turn to imported crops when yields in Britain are insufficient, this would also be harder because of heatwave conditions and water scarcity across Europe.

Farming experts said the hot weather has a ‘really severe’ impact on carrot yield this year

The hot weather has also had a major impact on lettuce crops, the National Farmers’ Union said

British Growers Association chief executive Jack Ward added that crops in the ground were ‘running short of water because irrigation licences have been restricted or shut down altogether,’ meaning that yields were ‘severely curtailed’.

He added that insufficient crops were being planted to keep the vegetable supply running normally this winter, adding: ‘We could be looking in some instances at reductions of up to 50 per cent in production’.

Hosepipe ban imposed on 1million from TODAY … with no rain in sight for at least two weeks 

A hosepipe ban affecting one million people across Hampshire and the Isle of Wight comes into force at 5pm today – as the Met Office warned of ‘very little meaningful rain’ on the horizon for parched areas of England.

Southern Water begins the ‘temporary usage ban’ today – a week before South East Water restrictions for Kent and Sussex start, covering 2.2million people. The 85,000 people on the Isle of Man have had a ban since last Friday.

Now, Welsh Water has also announced restrictions for 200,000 customers in Pembrokeshire and a small part of Carmarthenshire from August 19 – with the firm blaming the driest conditions since the drought of 1976.

In Southern Water’s guidance for what to do if you spot a neighbour breaking the ban from today, the company advises: ‘If you notice a neighbour, family or friend, in the affected areas, using water for the restricted activities please gently remind them of the restrictions in place and direct them to our website for more information.’

But a Southern Water spokesman added: ‘If you see anyone repeatedly breaching the restrictions, please let us know via our customer service team. A fine of up to £1,000 can be imposed for any breaches. Our approach is one of education rather than enforcement. We would like to thank all our customers for supporting these restrictions.’

Any fine would have to be imposed via the courts. The current restrictions cover using a hosepipe to water a garden, clean a vehicle, or wash windows. They also include filling a paddling pool, domestic pond or ornamental fountain. The ban does not impose restrictions on essential and commercial uses of water, such as commercial window cleaners and car washes, or businesses that need water as part of their operations, such as zoos.

South East Water told customers that if they see a neighbour using a hosepipe or sprinkler during the ban from next Friday, they should ‘contact us via www.southeastwater.co.uk/tubs so that we can check to see if any exemptions are in place and take the appropriate action should your neighbour be ignoring, knowingly or unknowingly, the restrictions in place’. It also has a ‘dedicated temporary use ban line’ on 0333 000 0017. 

But Ken Marsh, chairman of the Metropolitan Police Federation, has warned that Britons who start reporting their neighbours in regions with hosepipe bans could lead to ‘disorder’ and impact over-stretched police forces.

He told the Telegraph: ‘These are civil matters, so not a matter for the police. But obviously if disorder breaks out as a result of people snitching then we will have to respond, but it is extra work that we could do without, frankly.’

Some 17million more people in other parts of England could soon be hit by further bans after Thames Water and South West Water both warned they might soon have to bring in restrictions – which would affect 15million customers in London and the Thames Valley, and around two million in Cornwall, Devon, Dorset and Somerset.

This would mean a total of 20.5million people could be affected by water-use restrictions in England. As it stands, the number of people under a ban from today will stand at 1.1million, which will rise to 3.3million next Friday.

Months of little rainfall, combined with record-breaking temperatures in July, have left rivers at exceptionally low levels, depleted reservoirs and dried-out soils.

All of this has put pressure on the environment, farming and water supplies, and is fuelling wildfires.

The Met Office has warned there is ‘very little meaningful rain’ on the horizon for parched areas of England as temperatures are set to climb into the 30Cs next week.

While it could mean another heatwave – when there are above-average temperatures for three days or more – it is likely that conditions will be well below the 40C seen in some places last month.

However, Mr Ward also pointed out that higher production levels of crops would continue in parts of the UK such as Scotland which are experiencing far more rain.

And there is better news for blueberries, with the hot weather having doubled the harvest this summer – with extra sunlight meaning the fruits are sweeter than ever.

The berries are also available in supermarkets earlier than usual which is good news for environmentally-concerned shoppers who will have an alternative to those flown from thousands of miles away.

Industry bodies predict the first week of August will see 546 tonnes of blueberries picked from British farms compared to just 257 tonnes in the same week last year and the total for the summer amounting to 4,600 tonnes providing a £481million boost to the economy.

A majority of the fruits still come from overseas, some as far away as South Africa, Chile and Mauritania but the homegrown version has grown tenfold in the past decade.

It comes after hot weather in June and July boosted growth and the extra hours of sunlight during the period increased the natural sugar content in the crop, said trade body British Summer Fruits.

The increase in production and earlier ripening has also provided a much needed boost for populations of pollinators such as bees.

Nick Marston, chairman of British Summer Fruits, said: ‘We have enjoyed bright sunny days throughout June and July which has helped British blueberries to produce high natural sugars overnight, making them sweeter.

‘Blueberries have become renowned for their amazing health benefits and as farms continue to improve growing techniques with late cropping varieties to extend the season we can offer fresh home grown blueberries for longer.’

Meanwhile British vineyards are predicting the record-breaking summer will yield the best wine this country has ever produced.

The prolonged period of hot sun means the grapes will be packed with natural sugars and will not need any artificial sweetening added to them.

As a result the wine eventually fermented from this year’s bumper crop will be the most natural and well-rounded to ever be produced by UK vineyards, experts say.

But wine lovers will have to wait to get the chance to taste the 2022 vintage, because these wines will onot be ready to drink for another three years.

Alex Taylor, who runs the Independent English Wine Awards, said: ‘2018 was celebrated as the ‘vintage of a lifetime’ for growing grapes in the UK, but that year seems unlikely to hold onto the title for long.’

The owner of one vineyard, the Langham Wine Estate in Dorset which is famed for its award-winning sparkling wine, said they have benefitted from the driest summer in 111 years.

Justin Langham said that as long as the dry weather holds across southern England for a few more weeks, he could be harvesting the perfect crop of grapes.

The dry weather and extreme heat will also mean that the grapes will have to be harvested earlier than usual.

Mr Langham said: ‘There is a lot that can still go wrong but the grapes are looking fantastic at the moment. I would say if this weather continues it will be a bumper year.

‘The forecast for the next week or so is looking particularly marvellous. If there isn’t any rain we will probably get more intense flavours in our grapes and the wine will be sweeter.

‘If our good fortune continues you will see the most well-rounded wine to be produced in this country.’

Hot weather has doubled the blueberry harvest this summer, with the fruits sweeter than ever

British vineyards are predicting the weather will yield the best wine the UK has ever produced

It comes as the first hosepipe bans – also known as temporary use bans (TUBs) – will be introduced in parts of southern England at 5pm today, with further restrictions earmarked for the South East of England and South West Wales later this month.

Southern Water, whose domestic water-use restrictions will be in place across Hampshire and the Isle of Wight later today, encouraged people to ‘gently remind’ neighbours of the restrictions in place if they saw anyone breaking the rules.

A spokesman added: ‘If you see anyone repeatedly breaching the restrictions, please let us know via our customer service team.

‘A fine of up to £1,000 can be imposed for any breaches. Our approach is one of education rather than enforcement.

The Met Office said southern England had seen its driest July since records began in 1836

‘We would like to thank all our customers for supporting these restrictions and for doing your bit to protect your local rivers.’

Any fine would have to be imposed via the courts. The current restrictions cover using a hosepipe to water a garden, clean a vehicle, or wash windows.

They also include filling a paddling pool, domestic pond or ornamental fountain.

The TUB does not impose restrictions on essential and commercial uses of water, such as commercial window cleaners and car washes, or businesses that need water as part of their operations, such as zoos.


Similar measures will be introduced for South East Water customers in Kent and Sussex next Friday, while Welsh Water will bring in a hosepipe ban on August 19 to cover Pembrokeshire.

The situation has prompted calls for action to reduce water consumption to protect the environment and supplies, and to restore the country’s lost wetlands ‘on an enormous scale’ to tackle a future of more dry summers and droughts.

Other water firms have so far held off bringing in restrictions despite low water levels, though some say they may need to implement bans if the dry weather continues.

Householders who have not yet been hit by restrictions are being urged to avoid using hosepipes for watering the garden or cleaning the car.

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