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British farmers told to grow grapes to survive climate change

One of the leading English wine producers has urged British farmers to embrace viticulture to survive climate change and meet the sector’s demand, as UK agriculture is set to shift radically in future years.

The co-founder of Balfour Winery, Richard Balfour-Lynn, said the opportunity for the rising demand for grapes was “huge” for British farmers, with data from Wine GB showing a 70% rise in plantings and more than 4,000 hectares becoming vineyards in recent years.

But even in the face of such exponential growth, Balfour said it was still not enough to satisfy its needs, and was sourcing grapes from farmers who previously hadn’t considered vineyards a viable option in recent years. The company, which was founded in 2002, was “still looking for partnerships with farmers or fruit growers” in order to fund further expansion, such was the level of demand.

Arable shift

Agriculture, which is around 72% of land use in the UK, is set to alter dramatically in the next century. It is expected yields of wheat and other traditional British produce will make them increasingly unviable in the south and east of the country. At present, cows and sheep are grazed in the north and west of Britain, but according to research by the University of Exeter, warmer temperatures could force farmers to switch to more profitable arable farming by 2100.

Making the comments ahead of English Wine Week tomorrow (17 June), Balfour-Lynn said farmers turning to grapes now would “reap the rewards” in future years, pushing sales to more than nine billion bottles, with predictions of as much as 40 million bottles by 2040.

He said wineries were having to “act quickly to keep up” and that Balfour Winery was set to double its own production within the next five years alone, to one million bottles. Research by Savills has said that sales of farmyard can attract as much as £20,000 per acre, for the best ground positioned in the right location.

The news is something of a change of heart for Balfour-Lynn, who previously predicted in 2019 “a lot of casualties” in the sector in the next five years due to a “massive oversupply”.

Speaking at the time about a collection of new entrants with big volume production plans in the English wine industry, he told db: “If we carry on the way we are in England, then we will have a massive oversupply. People think it’s romantic [creating a wine estate in England], but it’s a science and a skill to get quality grapes in this country, and I think there will be a lot of casualties over the next years.”

Reaping rewards

Speaking about the current opportunity, Balfour-Lynn said: “The opportunity is huge. This industry is only going one way; and farmers who diversify now will reap the rewards in years to come. We’ve worked with a number of landowners and farmers over recent years to help them produce grapes, as the climate and landscape for English wine continues to improve.

“With so much pressure on farmers – from rising costs to climate pressures – growing grapes can really help to diversify your business, increase the cost of land and help produce something utterly delicious. It can work alongside traditional agriculture, and with the expertise we have at companies like Balfour; we can guide you through the process from planting to your 20th harvest.”

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