Farmers concerned that another Norrland drought looms

Martin Forslund estimates that he will likely only achieve 60 percent of the hay harvest he had at this time last year.
Martin Forslund estimates that he will likely only achieve 60 percent of the hay harvest he had at this time last year.

Farmers in the north are concerned that this year might see a repeat of the summer of 2018. "It could lead to more expensive milk or more bankruptcies," says farmer Martin Forslund.

Skellefteå 14 juni 2023 11:02

Meteorologists have been issuing warnings in the media about the risk of a hot and dry summer, similar to the drought-stricken year of 2018. During that time, there was a shortage of animal feed, forcing farmers to purchase it at high prices.

According to a report in Aftonbladet last Friday, farmers in southern Sweden are already lining up to slaughter animals due to the potential feed shortage caused by the dry weather.

Although northern Sweden has not been as severely affected yet, concerns about a recurrence of the parched fields seen in 2018 remain.

– Yes, there is definitely concern. We recently held a meeting to prepare ourselves in conjunction with the County Administrative Board and local farming groups," says Lotta Folkesson, Chairperson of the Federation of Swedish Farmers in Västerbotten, LRF.

Lotta Folkesson reports that the Federation of Swedish Farmers (LRF) is now making preparations to address potential drought conditions this summer.

During the meeting, she received reports from all corners of the county and observed that the situation varies. In certain areas, such as parts of the Skellefteå region, it is already dry due to insufficient rainfall.

–There is concern about the upcoming first hay harvest, which is commencing this week. It is still challenging to predict its outcome, but many anticipate a smaller yield than usual due to recent cold weather. Overall, there is a general sense of limited rainfall. The actual volume will only be evident once we begin cutting, she explains.

Simultaneously, SMHI (Swedish Meteorological and Hydrological Institute) forecasts a week of extremely hot weather.

What preparations are being made?

– We are exploring options to secure permits for alternative forage harvesting, for example, and devising plans to monitor the situation and report to the authorities."

Regarding the farmers' readiness for this situation, particularly in terms of feed storage, what is the plan?

– We have faced several difficult years, initially due to the pandemic and then the outbreak of conflict. Increased fuel and fertilizer prices compelled many farmers to limit cultivation to essential levels last year. Consequently, building substantial feed inventories became challenging. In fact, feed stocks are lower this year compared to the preparations made for the previous summer, she says.

– This indicates a potentially harsher impact on agriculture than that experienced in 2018. At that time, we did not have the pandemic and conflict outbreak to contend with.

Is the possibility of bankruptcies looming?

– There is always a risk. Many farmers are already facing significant challenges.

She emphasizes that temperatures are rising, with the fire risk being elevated from level two to level five in Vännäs, her place of residence.

– The current circumstances are quite distressing. We are uncertain about what lies ahead. However, we do not need any more negative factors affecting the farms. Farmers require stability to carry out their work effectively, as they are already facing a substantial workload, she concludes.

The drought will present a major challenge for farmers: "I hope politicians will provide support if problems arise," Martin says.

Martin Forslund operates Milafo Farm with dairy cows outside of Kåge.

–At the moment, things look good. We'll see after the harvest. If we experience drought and no regrowth, then we'll encounter problems. It can quickly turn worse, although I'm not overly worried yet.

They typically take three hay harvests for their 360 dairy cows and young animals.

– It's actually the grain crop that suffers. If it doesn't rain, it doesn't grow as fast. It's the first to be affected.

– No one can control the weather. We just have to deal with it.

Forslund is currently fully occupied with producing silage for the animals. He has also delivered feed from last year to farmers who have already run out.

How did you manage in 2018?

– We did well. We managed and didn't have to cull our animals. We always strive to maintain a good reserve of feed and don't let it sit and rot. This year, we will rely on our reserves until September/October.

Is there a lot of talk among farmers about 2018?

– Yes, there have been discussions since then. But it also costs to build up stock.

He confirms that some farmers had difficulties last year.

What will happen if there are issues this summer?

– We may need to purchase feed on an expensive market. Many are on the edge, he says.

"This is how high the grain should be now," says Martin.

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