Climate change could make livestock disease more common

DISEASES including the Schmallenberg virus will become more prevalent in UK livestock unless something is done to reduce the effects of climate change, experts have warned.

Speaking at the Farm Cutting Carbon Toolkit conference in Oxford yesterday (Monday, February 27), the NFU’s chief advisor on renewable energy and climate change, Dr Jonathan Scurlock, said the warmer climate meant midges carrying the virus were ‘thriving’.

Dr Scurlock said Schmallenberg and Bluetongue were able to cross over to Britain from the Continent because the midges, which are thought to be responsible for carrying the disease over the Channel, survived a warm winter.

He added drought will also become more common because of climate change.

Agriculture is responsible for 9 per cent of the UK’s greenhouse gases (GHG) with the three main gases being carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide. The target for UK agriculture is to reduce its emissions by 80 per cent by 2050.

Chairman of Natural England, Poul Christensen, agreed the changing climate would have a big impact on livestock diseases and the increasing risk of drought would drive up food prices.

He said farmers had an ‘important role’ to play in climate change mitigation and had to start looking at ways to adapt.

“Temperatures are rising and the evidence stacks up,” said Mr Christensen.

“We can see climate change impacting on our farms. Birds are nesting earlier and plants are flowering earlier. There should be no doubt about climate change and there should be no doubt about the need to tackle it.

“It means there is a greater probability of extreme weather events: more drought, more often.”

Other speakers at the event including director of Farm Cutting Carbon Toolkit, Jonathan Smith, showed how cutting carbon emissions on farm made good business sense.

Only using fertiliser when needed was one example of reducing costs and in turn, the impact on the environment.

He said boosting soil health through soil sequestration was a good way to boost yields and increase profits.

Readers' comments (1)

  • Increased vegetation cover can sequester carbon from the atmosphere.

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