Poor weather throughout 2012 could see Somerset farmers upping pressure to legalise genetically-modified crops to increase their chances of a good yield.
Last year began with a serious three-month drought, resulting in most of the UK being issued with a hosepipe ban in March. As soon as the bans were in place, the rain began to fall and did so with enthusiasm for the rest of the year.
The Environment Agency issued a record 1,000 flood warnings nationally during the course of the year.
It is estimated that the cost to the food production market has been more than £600 million from crops such as potatoes and wheat affected by flooding, and bees have not been able to leave the shelter of their hives resulting in a 72 per cent drop in commercial honey production. Somerset’s apple harvest was, for many growers, the worst in 15 years.
The crop for next year for many arable farmers is also under threat as the flooded land meant they were unable to sow cereal crops in the autumn and are now looking to source seed for crops that can be sown in the spring, which is likely to be in short supply and expensive.
Livestock farmers also struggled last summer to grow and harvest quality forage crops to feed cattle during the winter and those that were harvested were generally of limited quality.
People in Somerset are now concerned about ongoing food shortages and rising prices as the climate fluctuates from flood to drought and from heat wave to big freeze.
Some scientists suggest genetically engineering existing varieties could help improve yields during these severe weather changes by developing new strains better suited to the adverse growing conditions.
The case for introducing GM crops has previously failed to convince a sceptical British public, wary of introducing “Frankenstein organisms” into the food chain, and no GM crops have been grown commercially in Britain.
Environment Secretary Owen Paterson said at a farming conference on Thursday: “We should not be afraid of making the case to the public about the potential benefits of GM beyond the food chain – for example, reducing the use of pesticides and inputs such as diesel.
“I believe that GM offers great opportunities but I also recognise that we owe a duty to the public to reassure them that it is a safe and beneficial innovation.”
Peter Kendall, president of the National Farmers’ Union, showed his support for GM food saying: “The majority of our members are aware of the real risk of becoming globally uncompetitive because of avoiding using GM.”