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Isles set to weather effects of dry summer

Grass has been slow growing this summer. Photo: Peter Johnson/Shetland News

SHETLAND farmers and crofters ought to be spared the worst effects of the dry summer that is threatening to hit mainland agriculture badly.

But it has taken heavy rain showers over the past few days to ease worries in the sector that a second cut of grass might yield little and cause a problem for winter feed.

NFU Scotland vice president Martin Kennedy said following a livestock judging visit to the isles last week that there was concern about the knock on effect of drought on store lamb prices, which could be hit by expensive feed.

But local farmers on Tuesday said that it appeared the developing crisis appeared to be over, with the weather on the mainland also turning a corner to more typical patterns.

Instead, a bigger problem was a national shortage of bedding straw with much of the crop now burned for energy compounded by the, literally, short cereal stalks. The NFU was requesting farmers to stop chopping and ploughing straw to try and avert the shortage.

Director of Shetland Farm Dairies, Martin Burgess, who is also one of the firm’s three local milk suppliers, said: “Personally I do not anticipate wis having a supply problem.

“The weather has been hugely inconvenient but we can live with it.” He said that the cost of importing feed was utterly prohibitive, so dearer prices for winter fodder south should not affect local farmers who were largely self-sufficient.

Farmer Robert Nicolson, who also supplies Shetland Farm Dairies, said that the “panic was over” but that there was a definite effect on second cuts of silage.

The grass had been burned by a north west gale and then a prolonged dry spell had followed. But it appeared to be back on track again with the end of the drought.

He added that the biggest worry now was the price of straw which was in short supply nationally.

Aith farmer Jim Nicolson said that while there was still a degree of uncertainty related to the weather, what had been shaping up to be a “disaster” now appeared over.

“Folk working with first cuts of silage or single cuts of silage are reasonably happy with the crops.

“The ones at the Ness who are looking for second cuts may find there is not that much growth.”

Following his Shetland visit, Kennedy says in his NFUS blog: “Something that you can’t ignore in Shetland is the cost of bringing feeding or bedding on to the islands. Most people are fully aware that when at all possible it’s far better to try and make your own feeding to reduce the costs. This is something that can be quite challenging in Shetland but worthwhile where possible.

“I was even shown a field of fodder beet, (which you don’t expect to see on Shetland but was looking very healthy). This certainly proved to me that every option was being looked at to try and adapt to the challenges faced.”