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East Anglia Future 50

East Anglia's farmers are 'still dealing with effects of 2018 summer drought'

PUBLISHED: 06:00 06 April 2019

A farm reservoir in Suffolk following the prolonged dry spell through June and July of 2018  Picture: SARAH CHAMBERS

A farm reservoir in Suffolk following the prolonged dry spell through June and July of 2018 Picture: SARAH CHAMBERS

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A survey of farmers on the impact of the 2018 agricultural drought has underlined sector concerns in East Anglia, the UK’s driest region.

Paul Hammett, water expert at the National Farmers' Union  Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNPaul Hammett, water expert at the National Farmers' Union Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

A National Farmers’ Union (NFU) survey of members revealed that many were still feeling the after-effects of last year’s extreme weather.

NFU National Water Resources Specialist Paul Hammett said East Anglian farmers had expressed their concerns when they met the Environment Agency in March.

“The past 10 months have been the second driest for the region since records began in 1910. In February, the region only received 28mm of rainfall, about three quarters of the long term average for the month,” he said.

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An East Anglian crop field being irrigated  Picture: PHIL MORLEYAn East Anglian crop field being irrigated Picture: PHIL MORLEY

“A return to wet weather conditions could still turn the situation around, but time is running out to fill farm reservoirs and summer drought measures will be increasingly likely if the dry weather persists.

“We could be in a situation, as last year, where car owners can still wash their cars, gardeners can still water their lawns but farmers won’t have the water they need to grow our food.”

The survey asked about the potential impact on farms if they receive only 75% of long-term average rainfall during the 2019 growing season – the prospect for which is currently described as a ‘reasonable worse-case scenario’.

Two-thirds of livestock farmers said they are still experiencing, or expect to experience, a shortage of forage and fodder supplies as a result of growing conditions in 2018. Of the farmers experiencing continued problems, two-thirds had been able to extend the growing season, two-thirds needed to buy in fodder, and half had sold off livestock.

Earlier this year, head of the Environment Agency Sir James Bevan told a Waterwise conference in London that within 25 years England will not have enough water to meet demand.

The combined impact of climate change and population growth meant we faced an ‘existential threat’, he said, and called for wasting water to become ‘as socially unacceptable as blowing smoke in the face of a baby’.

The NFU survey indicated farmers were already making contingency plans to meet short-term risks of water scarcity, with a wide range of measures being put in place to mitigate against drought risk among those who use irrigation.

NFU vice president Stuart Roberts said: “Farmers bear the brunt of the impacts of extreme weather, and climate change predictions indicate that events like last summer’s drought, as well as the flooding of agricultural land, are likely to become more frequent in the years to come.

“We all have a role to play in managing water as a resource, however the question remains – why are we jeopardising our nation’s food security so that members of the public can wash their cars?”

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