Farmers count costs of climate change, as wet winter knocks nearly a billion pounds off revenues

New analysis shows the scale of the financial hit, as green farming schemes offer a ‘climate lifeline’ to hard pressed farmers

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By George Smeeton

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New analysis [1] from the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU) reveals today that arable farmers face losing nearly a billion in revenue as a result of the wet winter.

The analysis comes as a new study from the Met Office, World Weather Attribution (WWA) and others shows that the autumn and winter rainfall in the UK was made 15% heavier by climate change [2].

The ECIU analysis found that revenue from key arable crops is set to reduce by 19%. Based on current prices for wheat, barley, oats and oilseed rape, and previous estimates of the impact of the wet winter on harvests this year [3], farmers could lose £890m on these crops compared to what they could have made if they’d produced as much as in 2023. Compared to the average production achieved between 2015-2023, these losses increased to £1.2 billion.

With the analysis not covering crops such as potatoes, sugar beet and field vegetables, all hit hard by this winter’s heavy rainfall [4], the real financial impact of the wet winter is likely to be much higher.

Tom Lancaster, land analyst at ECIU said, “The science is now clear that this winter’s wet weather was made worse by climate change. With crops hit by the winter washout, the UK’s food security has been shaken and farmers are left counting the cost.

“There is now an urgent need to move faster to support farmers to become more resilient to these impacts. More regenerative farming is a key part of this, restoring soils to withstand droughts and floods, planting new hedgerows and creating new wetlands to slow and store floodwaters. The government’s new green farming schemes can also provide vital income to offset these climate losses, providing a climate lifeline for those hardest hit.”

Compared to the same level of production as 2023, and based on selling at current prices [5], ECIU estimate that farmers stand to lose £751m on the wheat harvest, £183m on winter barley and £173 on oilseed rape. These are only partly offset by gains of £43m growing oats and £175m more growing spring barley [6].

When applied to some hypothetical example farms, these losses translate to tens of thousands of pounds in lost revenue for farms typical of their region [7]. Applied to a 500ha farm in the east of England with average cropping, the analysis suggests losses around £80,000 this year. In a potential lifeline for farmers, figures recently released [8] to Parliament by the Farming Minister Mark Spencer suggest that much of this lost revenue could be offset by income from the new Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI), more details of which were released yesterday [9]. Using these Defra figures, ECIU estimates that three out of four of these example farms could generate scheme payments in excess of these projected losses. For example, a typical 250ha farm in the East Midlands would generate a scheme payment of £37,000, against projected wet winter losses of £35,000.

Commenting on the analysis Martin Lines, chief executive of the Nature Friendly Farming Network said, The extremely wet winter we’ve had has impacted our ability to plant and look after our crops. Taking advantage of SFI options means we can get support for measures like planting cover crops that mitigate soil loss. This gives us the ability to get onto fields earlier and take the wettest areas out of production, turning them into environmental improvement areas, herbal leys, or legume fallows to improve soil condition and make our fields more resilient for the future.

Making the best use of these green farming payments means our business becomes more resilient, and we will be ready to tackle further changes in our climate in the years ahead."

As well as providing cashflow for their business, and support to make them more resilient to the impact of climate change, many farmers testify that green farming schemes can also make their cropping more productive and efficient.

Patrick Barker, an arable farmer from Suffolk said, Our approach means the whole farm is more efficient. We only farm the land where we have a greater chance of growing productive crops. Our more marginal land has been turned into habitat for nature. This is much more likely to pay dividends than putting hard work and expensive inputs into land where we are not going to get the results. It takes away the financial risk of trying to force crops on unproductive land, as the schemes provide a guaranteed income stream.

“As others have had to spend more on expensive inputs like fertiliser, our input costs have reduced dramatically. Our healthier soil means we use less on our productive land and we are using none at all on our environmental areas. We are reducing risk across our whole farming system by the way we are farming with these schemes.”

The ECIU analysis comes on the same day as a new study from World Weather Attribution (WWA), which found that the rain this winter was 15% heavier as a result of climate change. If the planet reaches 2 degrees of warming, a winter as wet as this could be repeated every 13 years, compared to every 80 years in the cooler, pre-industrial period.

Notes to editors:

  1. Estimated financial losses faced by UK farmers due to wet weather impacts on key arable crops
  2. Autumn and winter storm rainfall in the UK and Ireland was made about 20% heavier by human-caused climate change,
  3. UK food security: winter washout could cut harvests by a fifth,
  4. ‘Potato industry warns of ‘spudflation’ and shortages due to weather’,
  5. Current prices reported by the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) (wheat, oats and barley) and Farmers Weekly (oilseed rape)
  6. In a forecast in mid-March AHDB expected farmers to grow more spring barley and spring oats than in 2023. However, the ongoing wet weather into April may have inhibited this.
  7. See Tables 6, 7 and 8 in the analysis in Note 1
  8. The average payment per hectare for SFI applications to date is £148,
  9. Defra documents unavailable at time of issue

    For more information or for interview requests:

    George Smeeton, Head of Communications, ECIU, Tel: +44 (0)7894 571 153, email: