Farmers are being forced to implement radical changes in agricultural practices due to the impact of climate change, the National Farmers' Union said today.
More than a third of farmers see climate change as a threat to their livelihoods, with more than 90 per cent believing they face more extreme weather as well as warmer, wetter winters and hotter, drier summers, according to an NFU report.
The union is calling on the Government to appoint a Climate Change Minister to coordinate the fight against global warming.
It is also calling for dedicated research into how farming can adapt to cope with climate change and how farmers could use carbon trading systems, substituting renewable energy sources for fossil fuels.
NFU president Tim Bennett said: "It is clear from this document that urgent action is needed. It confirms that, even in the short-term, the impact of climate change on farming and growing will be profound. But there are holes in our knowledge that need to be filled.
"If we are to rise to the challenge of adapting to climate change and indeed capitalise on the opportunities then we need a much better
idea of what is coming."
Among those already seeing the impact of climate change is Edward Thompson, a blackcurrant grower from Ledbury in Herefordshire.
Mr Thompson, whose family has been growing blackcurrants since the 1920s, has been forced to change his farming practices as a result.
"We became aware of it following the winter of 1997/98 when in the spring our plants began displaying symptoms we didn't understand," he said.
It took Mr Thompson four years and a visit to New Zealand to discover that an increase in winter temperature was to blame.
"Within hours of being in New Zealand and seeing blackcurrant plants there it became pretty obvious what it was," he said.
Mr Thompson said the blackcurrants had been affected by a lack of winter chill and he was forced to change farming practices considerably.
"We've had to introduce new varieties. About 60 per cent of current varieties simply won't cope on a commercial scale and we've already seen yields drop dramatically in these.
"Looking to the future we will be completely dependent on new varieties being bred with climate change and winter chill requirement as a primary parameter."
Other farmers experiencing problems include Nick Adams from Derbyshire.
Mr Adams, who rears organic cattle and sheep, has seen an increase in the growing season, which has extended the grazing period.
But a warmer, longer season has created difficulties with a rise in native and introduced pests and an increase in health problems, such as cattle pneumonia, heat stress, mastitis and respiratory problems.
Mr Bennett said: "Global warming will present a number of significant challenges to the industry with new diseases and pests to combat and increased competition for vital resources like water.
"Climactic volatility across the globe will make our role as food producers increasingly important and securing a domestic supply of high quality food will become paramount.
"There is much the farming industry can do to help meet these challenges but much rests on our ability to adapt to the changes and grasp the opportunities. This issue requires direction and leadership across all spectrums of society."