IT’S officially spring and lambs should be gambolling in the fields while farmers sow the barley necessary for Scotland’s world-famous whisky.

Instead, the lambs are shivering on sodden ground beside their mothers as the rain lashes down and farmers monitor the gloomy forecast with ­increasing concern.

Extreme rainfall over the winter has extended into spring, affecting not only the crops that should be sown now but also wheat and oilseed rape sown following last year’s harvest.

“It would be a disaster if we couldn’t get the barley in the ground,” said Jack Stevenson, who farms at Boyndie near Banff and is chair of NFU Scotland’s combinable crops committee. “Probably about 80% of the crops around here are spring ­barley for the maltsters so we’ve got all our eggs in one basket.”

He added: “My dad said this ­morning that he’d never known a spring like it – it’s very worrying.

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“I’ve never seen us have a crop ­failure but it is a worry and a worry for the maltsters and merchants ­because they are committed to ­supplying the Diageos and Glenlivets or Macallans of this world.

“I don’t think the distillers are worried just yet but if it is still the same at the end of April, it will be a different story.”

Rain is not all that is falling. Prices for crops have dropped while costs have continued to rise to the point where many of Scotland’s farmers are starting to wonder if they will break even come harvest time.

“It would really be a disaster for the Scottish cereals farming industry if we didn’t get a crop in the ground,” said Stevenson.

“We have fertiliser and machinery bills and rents to be paid so we can’t just miss a harvest.

“There would be a lot of ­pressure on the banks then to extend ­overdrafts and I think they would be unwilling to do that in some cases. I hope that never happens but it is a worry.”

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The vagaries of the weather along with high machinery and fertiliser costs means that maintaining good mental health is becoming “more and more of an issue” in the farming ­sector, according to Stevenson.

“These are challenging times and in our industry, a lot of ­farmers are ­working by themselves and it is tough,” he said. “We don’t like to be doom and gloom all the time as we are in a job that we love and are ­pretty ­resilient but you do worry about ­people working by themselves.

“We just seem to be getting more weather-dependent now and our ­inputs are spiralling.”

Machinery costs alone have risen by around 35% over the last few years with a brand new combine harvester now costing in the region of £500,000 while even a small tractor costs at least £100,000.

“It’s crazy money,” said Stevenson. “Costs went up when oil got really expensive but we’ve never seen the costs come down which is worrying.”

Fertilisers and fungicides also ­remain expensive and there is ­concern the poor weather will ­reduce the yields of crops sown before winter begins.

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“If we all struggle to get stuff on at the right time – and there are bare bits already – I would say we will be losing money to be honest,” said Scott Campbell of Kirkton Farm, ­Kinellar near Aberdeen.

“If we can’t get the nitrogen and sprays on at the correct time there will be more disease coming into the crop and the wheat will be poorer in yield and quality.

“For winter wheat we to try to get over four tonnes an acre to make it profitable – we need the tonnes and the price to make the margin.

“What I am concerned about is that the forecast doesn’t seem to be any better.”

Campbell said that if not enough fertiliser is applied and the ­fungicides are sprayed at the wrong time then yields could be cut substantially, meaning farmers would struggle to cover their costs and the UK would have to rely on more imports.

“Importing is not good for the ­environment and chemicals that are banned here are allowed on wheat grown in the US and Ukraine,” said Campbell, who is also a member of the combinable crops committee.

“Here we already have good ­practices with farm assurance, ­sprayer MOTs and operator training and we are doing all we can for the ­environment but the bottom line is, we can’t keep spending money on these if we can’t make a profit.

“The problem is Scotland-wide so everyone is in the same boat.”

With more rain on the way this week, farmers will be fervently ­hoping it dries up soon.