Drainage Contractor

Features U.K. Update
U.K. Update: Weather woes

The U.K. drainage industry is battling Mother Nature.

November 4, 2013  By Rob Burtonshaw

Drainage contractors often have a difficult relationship with the weather, especially in the United Kingdom, where four seasons in one day is the norm rather than the exception. We need bad weather: without excessive rain, no farmer would invest in drainage. However, this very weather also creates some of our most painful headaches. One day we are choking in dust, and the next we are axle deep in mud and sinking fast. Such is the plight of a drainage contractor.

For British contractors, the weather has been a roller-coaster and a subject that has proven impossible to avoid over the last couple of years, hence the reason for writing about it. The 2011-12 winter season was dry as a bone. Normally, our weather dictates that very little can be done in the field during January and February as it’s simply too wet (by definition any field we enter is a wet field, and in the dank winter months, our plant would sink out of sight if will tried to install drainage). In 2011-2012, we were able work hard throughout the winter; great news, one might think. The problem was that after such a dry time, farmers’ thoughts were not focused on draining. Orders were delayed or cancelled and all contractors were scrapping around trying to find work.

Of course, balance is something that Mother Nature is very keen on: It started raining in April 2012 and the summer was washed away. Still not content, the rain continued into autumn and caused major problems, with farmers unable to drill and plant winter wheat in as many fields as they planned. And even still not content, the rain continued into the winter, although at least such rain is expected at that time. By the end of the year, 2012 had been officially labelled the wettest in England since 1872.

The rain had two major impacts on the drainage industry. The first was positive: demand skyrocketed. The second impact was not so positive. The little work that was available in the summer and autumn was harder to complete and, therefore, less profitable.


This year the weather has been benign and typical. The only deviation from the average was a warmer and sunnier summer than normal – something welcomed by all! It sounds almost unbelievable, but we had a three-week block of solid sunny weather with temperatures reaching over 25 C degrees every day, all very unusual for our damp, mild Isles.

I can say for certain that 2013 is already going to be a good year for British contractors. High demand combined with good summer weather will mean profits for all, which is a very welcome prospect after last year. However, it also makes me ponder a question, which often lurks deep in the edges of my mind: Why does demand for drainage fluctuate depending upon the weather?

I suppose the answer is easy; when the rain is falling it sharpens the mind to the problems it causes. But this perhaps shows a misunderstanding of the time scales involved with drainage. Buried safety in the ground, drainage lasts a long time; the investment is for the long term and should be made following a session spent number-crunching yield data – not when looking out of the window wishing it would stop raining.

I’m convinced that worldwide, but especially in the United Kingdom, we have to be more proactive in selling and promoting drainage. I’m not convinced that our customers and, more importantly, our potential customers, understand drainage and what it can do for them. We need to use the press, shout loudly and explain to farmers the yield advantages. The decision to drain should not be based on last month’s rainfall; it should be part of a long-term investment plan comparable to a new barn or combine harvester.

Rob Burtonshaw is a drainage contractor in the United Kingdom.

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