EXTREME weather cost Scotland’s farmers up to £161 million last year, new analysis suggests.

Livestock and crops were both affected as heavy spring snows and a hot dry summer sheared 6% from the total agricultural output during 2017-18, compared to the previous 12 months.

The findings come from independent economic consultancy Ecosulis. Environmental charity WWF Scotland, which commissioned the work, says extreme weather conditions are likely to increase and action must be taken now to help farmers adapt.

Dr Sheila George, food policy manager at WWF Scotland, said: “Last year’s extremes will soon be the norm rather than the exception and that will have huge implications for farmers and the environment. That’s why it’s so important the Scottish Government takes action now to support our agriculture sector to adapt to the challenges ahead.”

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More than half a metre of snow accumulated in some areas during the Beast from the East in March last year, leading to livestock deaths.

But before long the country was experiencing the joint hottest summer on record for the UK and farmers were forced to buy in feed due to reduced grasses.

The Economic Impact of Extreme Weather on Scottish Agriculture report concluded that sheep farmers suffered the biggest hit as the Beast from the East’s arrival during lambing season cost them £45m.

Another £34m was lost in wheat, £28m in beef and £26m in barley.

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Bruce Farquharson of the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service

The report added that the poor weather may have contributed to the decision of some dairy farmers to cease production, with some experiencing losses as a result of uncollected milk. Meanwhile, farmers also experienced building damage due to heavy snow and strong winds bringing down roofs and burst pipes.

Insurers also reported an increase in fires during June and July due to the exceptionally hot, dry summer.

George said: “Farmers are increasingly on the frontline of climate change, struggling with ever more unpredictable seasons and extreme weather. This report gives a snapshot of the huge financial toll, but behind these stats there is also a personal cost for farmers across the country.

“This year, the mild winter has boosted crop growth but the variability is already a huge challenge – and climate change is going to lead to more frequent, extreme and unpredictable weather events like we saw across 2017 and 2018.”

Douglas Christie, of Durie Farm, Leven, said: “I have a mixed farm in Fife and experienced first-hand lower crop yields of wheat, spring barley and spring beans as a result of the weather extremes last year.

“Poor weather in spring meant I couldn’t put the cattle out to grass as early as usual and I consequently used more conserved forage and straw. This was followed by poor grass growth in the summer until August when welcome rains arrived.

“I’ve been working to build resilience in my farming system using conservation agricultural principles so that I’m better able to stave off the effects of extreme weather in future.”

The report follows a warning to the public from the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) over increased risk of wildfires due to recent dry and warm conditions.

The warning, issued in conjunction with the Scottish Wildlife Forum, lasts until Saturday.

SFRS area manager Bruce Farquharson, who chairs the Scottish Wildfire Forum, said: “We saw last year the devastating effect wildfires can have on communities and wildlife.

“Many rural and remote communities are hugely impacted on by wildfires, which can cause significant environmental and economic damage. Livestock, farmland, wildlife, protected woodland and sites of special scientific interest can all be devastated. The public can help prevent wildfires by making sure they dispose of litter and smoking materials carefully.”