By Philip Case

UK rainfall chart 1-15 April

Farmers Weekly

The Met Office and the Environment Agency have allayed fears that the country could be heading for a drought.

According to the Met Office, the UK has seen about one-third of its average rainfall for April so far this month. The dry spell follows four months of below average rainfall.

The unseasonably warm weather, which has seen temperatures climb to the low to mid 20Cs, is expected to continue for much of this week.

But forecasters are warning of more unsettled weather on Friday and Saturday (24-25 April), with fresher winds and outbreaks of rain and heavy showers.

As a whole, the UK has seen average maximum temperatures for April 1.4C above average (see temperature chart below). The highest temperature so far this year is 25.1C, recorded at Frittenden, Kent, on 15 April.

The Met Office map shows the UK mean temperature for 1-15 April compared with the whole-month average. © Crown copyright

The recent spell of hot and sunny weather has intensified speculation in national newspapers that the UK could face drought conditions this summer.

But a spokesman for the Environment Agency said river and groundwater levels were “healthy” for this time of year, adding that suggestions of an impending drought were “not accurate”.

The Met Office has also played down talk of drought conditions in its three-month meteorological outlook.

Its precipitation outlook says: “For April to June as a whole, although near-to-above average precipitation is slightly favoured, uncertainty is large.

“Having said that there is a slight preference, in the majority of models, for below average pressure across northern Europe and the UK, which is generally associated with wetter-than-average conditions.”

Somerset beef and sheep farmer John Hebditch, whose farm in North Curry, near Taunton, was devastated by the 2013-14 winter floods, described the dry early start to 2015 as an “absolute godsend”.

“My farm is much, much drier than it has been for several years coming out of the winter,” he said.

“The home farm is quite dry, but there is moisture underneath. On the land out on the (Somerset) Levels, we put a vehicle across it quite easily the other day, when normally you would have to wait until the end of May.

Flooding in the Somerset Levels, 2014 © Rex Shutterstock

“A lot of work has been done by the Environment Agency in streams and ditches and water levels have been controlled.”

He added: “The dry winter has made all the difference. It has allowed the water levels to be maintained at a level that has helped existing grass and new leys to re-establish.”

But Mr Hebditch agreed that talk of a drought was premature. “It’s too early to talk about a drought yet. There is plenty of subsoil moisture.

“If it should rain in the next few weeks, I think there will be no problem.”

In the East, Prime Agriculture agronomist Marion Self from Suffolk said the cold nights had been holding back winter crops, but soils were now warming up.

But her biggest concern was spring cropping. “There is moisture underneath a lot of spring crops, such as beans, beet and barley, but the top of the ground is hard and crusty in a lot of cases.

“We need the rain to even up the establishment of these spring crops.”

California drought 2014A farmer’s sign about the water crisis folllowing a four-year long drought, near Bakersfield in the Central Valley, California, USA, with the soil turned to dust. © Rex Shutterstock

However, farmers in the UK who fear a drought this summer should spare a thought for farmers in California.

The US state, which is America’s biggest agricultural producer by value, is facing a likely fourth year of drought. The authorities are warning farmers that their water rights may soon face further restrictions.

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