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Suffolk: Major changes under way as water pressure mounts

PUBLISHED: 15:40 08 January 2014 | UPDATED: 15:40 08 January 2014

Meurig Raymond, National Farmers' Union deputy president, who will be visiting Suffolk this month to attend a water meeting

Meurig Raymond, National Farmers' Union deputy president, who will be visiting Suffolk this month to attend a water meeting

andy catterall

Suffolk farmers who take water from rivers and groundwater to grow food are being warned that major changes are on the way.

The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has launched a three-month consultation on proposals to modernise the way water is taken from rivers and groundwater under licence, representing the biggest shake up of the abstraction licensing regime for 50 years.

National Farmers’ Union (NFU) deputy president Meurig Raymond will be in Suffolk on Thursday, January 23, to chair the first of six consultation meetings across the region - and the NFU is urging farmers to get involved.

NFU national water resources specialist Paul Hammett said: “The Government wants the public to buy more British fruit and vegetables but farmers can only meet that demand if they have secure access to water.

“Ministers now need to match their words with action to deliver a fairer system - one that treats all water users equally and which makes that link between food security and water security.

“The new abstraction licensing system is at least 10 years away but we need to spend time and effort now, shaping a system that will suit the long-term water use on farms and protect this vital part of Suffolk’s rural economy.”

The NFU’s Why Farming Matters in Coastal Suffolk report highlighted the importance of the irrigated crops sector along the east Suffolk coast. Research by Cranfield University for East Suffolk Water Abstractors Group (ESWAG) estimated the value of these crops to the local economy at £51million.

Peter Youngs of ESWAG said: “These high-value crops can only be grown if farmers have access to water for irrigation.

“Without this water, not only would the crops fail but there would be job losses and the local economy would also suffer.”

As well as obtaining views on Defra’s abstraction reform consultation, the NFU meetings will consider the immediate local pressures facing irrigators. There will be speakers from the NFU, irrigation experts, the Environment Agency and local farmers.

The first consultation meeting takes place at the Riverside Centre, Stratford St Andrew, on Thursday, January 23, starting at 10am. A second meeting for Suffolk farmers is on Friday, February 7, at the NFU Regional Office in Newmarket.

Farmers in Essex are invited to attend a consultation meeting at Essex YFC, Whitbreads Barn, Chatham Green, on Friday, January 31.

Booking is essential and farmers can find out more by calling 01638 672100 or by speaking to their local NFU group office.

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