Clinton Devon farmers help Europe-wide climate project
The EUPORIAS project – which is made up of 24 organisations from across the continent, including the Met Office in Exeter – has enlisted the help of landowner Clinton Devon Estates to provide meaningful information from the soil-face.
Dr Pete Falloon, from the Met Office’s Hadley Centre, said: “A major aim of the EUPORIAS project is to better understand the needs of the people of Europe for weather and climate predictions, so we as a society can become more resilient and prepared for the future. What we are learning will also, we hope, be transferable to other parts of the world.
“A large part of this work involves understanding farmers’ needs for weather forecasts not just looking at the next few days but weeks, months, seasons and even years ahead, and also understanding what those people responsible for managing our landscapes might do as a result of longer-term weather forecasts.
“Recent advances in science and technology mean we can now provide more accurate long-term forecasts over large areas, particularly during the winter in the UK. For instance, the chance that forthcoming seasons will be warmer and wetter than average, or colder and drier. Now we want to understand in what form to provide this information to farmers and other land managers, and when, so they can make best use of it.
“We’re particularly keen to understand what choices farmers make when planting winter cover crops such as rye corn which are used to protect the soil, to stop nutrients and indeed the topsoil itself being washed away in bad weather.”
He revealed that discussions with a variety of farmers on Clinton Devon Estates land in both East and North Devon had so far shown a wide range of weather-related concerns including slurry storage, equipment and contractor hire, lambing time, and when to plant cover crops, when to move animals and when to get in the harvest.
Many of the farmers have said they would prefer earlier indications of autumn and winter conditions to better help them make key decisions about planting and harvesting, and want forecasts to be clearer and more specific for their areas, rather than for Devon as a whole, as well as information more relevant to agriculture such as dry days, rain days and heavy rain spells. Most would prefer a web-based system, as they all use the internet as well as their own observations to get current forecasts and other weather information.
Meeting some of these needs will not be without its challenges. Seasonal forecasts are normally presented as probabilities, which can be more difficult to interpret than standard weather forecasts. And at present, at county and UK scale, the seasonal forecasts are much less reliable for rainfall than they are for temperature. This is why working closely with the farmers is so critical to the project. Dr Falloon said: “We’ve found the farmers to be incredibly conscientious about looking after the landscape, and they are only too keen to have access to as much relevant information as possible about the weather and climate.
“We’ve learnt that what they really want are better forecasts about what each season has in store. For instance, at the moment, the farmers we spoke to seemed keen to be able to plant grass in the late autumn, rather than rye corn, as grass lasts longer and protects the soil better.
“But they are only able confidently to plant grass if they know they’re going to have six or seven weeks of mild weather. So these-longer term forecasts could provide useful background information alongside shorter-term forecasts to support decision-making across a wide range of agricultural sectors.”
Indeed, the forecast for last winter helped Clinton Devon Estates themselves make a timely decision on whether to start felling trees in one of their sustainably managed forests.
John Wilding, the estates’ Head of Forestry and Environmental Economy, explained that a seasonal forecast provided by EUPORIAS last winter was that it would be wetter than average: “Based on that information we decided not to start felling in one particular area in November as if we had started work and found we had to stop unexpectedly due to wet weather it could have resulted in damage to the soil.
“As forecast, that November was wetter than average, so in this case, the prediction proved particularly useful. We carefully manage our woodlands to make sure we have a wide range of tree species and age structures to provide habitats for numerous plant and animal species, and anything which helps us manage them better and keep erosion at bay is to be welcomed.”
Dr Falloon added: “We’re incredibly grateful to Clinton Devon Estates and the farmers in both East and North Devon for their time and valuable insight helping to shape the EUPORIAS project.
“What this help means is that we can provide information in the best way, and at the right time, so it is as useful as possible. We’ll now be using the valuable feedback we’ve had so far to help us develop a new version of the EUPORIAS land management prototype which we hope will be more closely aligned with the needs of farmers.
“Armed with what we now know we will be working with the NFU and talking to farmers further afield to gather more information about what could be required across the rest of the country.”
For more information on Euporias, see the website www.euporias.eu, and to learn more about the work of Clinton Devon Estates, please visit www.clintondevon.com
Update on EUPORIAS available here.