By Rebecca Sherratt, Production editor, Milling and Grain

The impact of the summer heatwave around the world is far from over, as farmers are continuing to be fearful regarding their available access to animal feed. The heatwave, resulting in the drying up of grass and other feeds, has meant that the approaching winter will be a potentially dangerous time for farmers, who have yet to recover from the heatwave, with insufficient feed stores saved up for their livestock in the winter. An emergency summit discussing this issue took place back on August 1, 2018, following farmer"s complaints that minimal action had taken place.

In the UK, the Government have acted to try and minimise the problems created by this issue, to ensure the safety and comfort of all cattle and livestock in the country. In the driest summer for the UK since 1961, actions need to be taken to ensure the agriculture industry does not suffer.

Ensuring sustainability in feed

The EU Commission has made their current rules more flexible, allowing farmers in Europe to be able to now grow grass and edible forage in areas that previously were not allowed for grazing. Prior to this arrangement, the Ecological Focus Area (EFA) stipulated that certain areas of land must be left fallow or sown with crop mix that is not permitted to be grazed upon, to save it for winter crop shortages.

Guidance, published by Defra, contains 40 Countryside Stewardship options, which can be adjusted for 2018 without penalty, providing that agreement holders notify Natural England by the end of 2018. Penalties for famers who fail to establish EFA areas to preserve crops for winter, will also be waived in light of the ongoing crisis.

Michael Gove, Defra Secretary, states that "it is only right that we do what we can to support farmers who have been placed under the most pressure. I am pleased that these flexibilities will offer some help to livestock farmers by opening up new sources of fodder ahead of the winter."

Many farmers have also learnt that cows lose appetite in the heat. Some farmers have had to feed their livestock directly via hand, whereas they would usually be self-feeding in the fields. Winter feed, or silage, has also started to be used a significant amount already to ensure that cows obtain sufficient moisture and food. This does, however, add additional, time-consuming manual work into a farmer"s job, and so this is not an ideal solution to combat animal feed and appetite.

The summer heatwave also followed a long, cold winter, which means that farmer stores of feed have been low, and now are only starting to recover from the winter of 2017. As our autumn now continues to worsen, many farmers are fearful of a harsh winter that might deplete stores more than they have prepared for.

The National Famer"s Union (NFU) has thankfully opened up a "fodders bank", a free service which allows members access to both animal feed and bedding. This service has remained open throughout summer and most of autumn.

Alongside the feed issue, water for livestock has also been a troublesome point of discussion. During the summer drought, many animals were not given sufficient shade and quickly became dehydrated. Much of the traditional shelter in farming over the years has been reduced, such as hedgerows and trees, in order to make more efficient use of farming machinery.

Looking forward

Another concern we may face is the National Drought Group"s (NDG) estimations that water restrictions will likely take place on Spring 2019, if winter rainfall continues to be below average. This time of uncertainty will continue to cause much concern for farmers worldwide.

Despite these unnerving statistics and estimations, other statistics also state that we are managing to produce more animal feed than previous years, and so demand might become much more manageable to supply for. The Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) note that feed production at the beginning of 2018 increased by 16 percent between January and May, when compared to previous years.

Feed production for sheep was also up eight percent, up to 235,800 tonnes.

During 2018"s second quarter, between April and June, UK feed production totalled 81, 300 tonnes. This is a slight increase, compared to 2016 where 80,000 tonnes of feed were produced.

Budgeting your feed is one key method to get through the winter, and many farmers are already planning for this eventuality. Applying small quantities of Nitrogen (20-30 kg N/ha) where there may be heavy dew in the mornings will boost grass growth for cattle to feed upon. It has also been recommended to search for alternative sources of feed, such as hay, straw, by-products or waste vegetables.

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