This afternoon 20.3c was recorded at Trawsgoed, Ceredigion, Wales making it the warmest ever February and winters day in the UK, exceeding the previous record of 19.7c set in Greenwich, London, on February 13, 1998. Although not quite as warm here, a temperature in excess of 17c was recorded in Roscommon this afternoon. This is not far from the record February temperature recorded in Phoenix Park on the 23rd of the month in 1891. The highest ever February temperature in Scotland of 18.3c was recorded last Thursday and this record had stood since 1897.
Contrast these temperatures with the severe winter cold and heavy snowfall experienced this time last year when the “Beast From The East” and Storm Emma descended on us. The statistic that will forever stick in my head from that period was the 14:00 temperature of -4c recorded at Roches Point on the afternoon of February 28th. This extraordinary spell is captured in an excellent analysis published by Met Éireann last week.
Whilst all today’s media attention is on the EU and Arab Leaders meeting in Sharm-el-Sheikh and the continuing saga of Brexit, today’s record breaking 20.3c highlights the growing challenge that Climate Change will pose to Ireland’s and the world’s capacity to produce our food. As an island nation, we are self sufficient in beef and dairy production. However, we are heavily dependent on imports for our fruit and vegetable needs. As the world’s climate becomes ever more unpredictable, the growing of fruit and vegetables will become even more challenging and harvest outputs will become increasingly variable from year to year. We know we need to increase our consumption of fruit and vegetables to fight obesity, improve our health and make agriculture more sustainable. Yet, we allow our horticulture industry decline to a level were there are just over 150 commercial growers of field vegetables left in the country and most of these are in their 50s and 60s. Low price margins and hard work don’t make it an attractive career choice for young people.
Today’s extraordinarily warm sunshine should prompt each of us to press for a substantive review of National Food Security policy to ensure that we rescue and then grow a horticulture industry in Ireland. Failure to develop Ireland’s capacity to grow fruit and vegetables now could result in a future national diet of just milk and meat.