UK's Flooded Farms Spark Fears of Food Shortages

A soaking summer has begun to take its toll on crops such as grains and vegetables in Britain and extinguished hopes for a recovery in the country's struggling dairy sector, industry sources said on Monday. "It is a complete and utter disaster. Milk production is dropping like a stone and that is because of the weather, " said livestock consultant Tim Brigstocke, a former chairman of the Royal Association of British Dairy Farmers.

|PIC1|"Milk is going to become more of a scarce commodity over the next few months. We are going straight back into massive problems," said the central England consultant.

Many cows have spent much of the summer indoors, forcing farmers to use scarce sileage stocks and feed costs are expected to rise sharply as grain prices soar.

The outlook for the sector, which has seen 50 percent of Britain's dairy farmers quit since 1992, had brightened earlier this year as retailers promised to increase the price they paid for milk.

"Feed costs will be going up astronomically and I don't think the extra milk price is going to cover it," Brigstocke said.

Feed wheat futures on euronext.liffe rose further on Monday with the key new crop contract, November , setting a contract high of 128.50 pounds a tonne. a rise of about 50 percent since early April.

The rise has been driven partly by concerns about low yields and poor quality in this year's western European harvests.

"It is beginning to look more serious now," said analyst Susan Twining of crop consultants ADAS.

Twining said problems were most severe for the barley and rapeseed crops, much of which are now ready to harvest. The wheat harvest does not get into full flow until next month.

"More than 70 percent of barley and oilseed rape is ready for harvest and they (farmers) are not able to get on. There is not a lot of prospect of getting much harvesting done this week," she said.

"We have already seen some sprouting with oilseed rape," Twining said, adding sprouting reduces oil content in the crop.

"Crops are at risk of losing yield and quality if conditions don't dry out a bit."

Philip Hudson, chief horticulture adviser for Britain's National Farmers Union, said the rains also posed a threat to vegetable harvests.

"The recent wet weather has caused fresh damage to potatoes and salad vegetable crops, there are fields under water as we speak," he said.

"It's not only harvesting that is the problem, farmers are having difficulty in planting, so the impact is not just now, but further down the line as well," he said.

Vegetable crops such as lettuces, broccoli and sprouts have a growing cycle of around two months.

He said there were seasonal workers who had come to Britain for the vegetable harvests and were now having to wait. "It's not easy for them," he said.

Hudson could not rule out the possibility of shortages.

"Growers will be doing all they can but planting in these waterlogged fields doesn't do much for yields," he said.

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