Drought warning to farmers

RECOVERING from the current drought will take a long time, East Anglia’s farmers were warned this week.

Around 20 farmers representing the key East Anglian catchments heard from the Environment Agency about the latest situation for the region at a drought meeting on Monday.

It was the third in a series of meetings of abstractor groups at the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) regional headquarters in Newmarket.

They were told that water levels were likely to take many months to recover as they met with NFU deputy president Meurig Raymond, who chaired the meeting, and Henry Leveson-Gower, who has been leading for the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on the Government’s Water White Paper.

NFU East senior policy adviser Paul Hammett said the long-term, as well as the short-term, repercussions of the drought were discussed. “The issue for us that we really needed to think about was while we are really concentrating our activity on the current and short-term future and the potential drought between now and high summer, what farmers are at least starting to think about is the ground water situation we have got as a result of lack of rainfall for one, if not two, years,” he said.

“It’s going to take a long time to recover and we are going to need more than average rainfall for 12 solid months to avoid being back here again in March 2013.

“We are getting things in place to help us through the 2012 growing season but we are thinking about 2013 already.”

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The Water White Paper, published at the end of last year, was looking at issues such as the water management structure and would open up a debate on how water is managed, he said.

“In farming, we think we are disadvantaged in our access to water,” he said. Water companies were not subject to the same restrictions on water abstraction, for example, he said.

“Farmers feel disadvantaged because when the going gets tough in terms of access to water, we are a bit of a poor relation.

“We’ll be quite interested in this Government review of how water is balanced between the different interests and how it’s paid for.”

Mr Leveson-Gower was taken out to visit a farm in Ely to demonstrate how farms use water.

The NFU had been working hard to persuade the Environment Agency to be as flexible as possible to help farmers through the “next few crucial months”, he said.

But the reality was the levels in aquifers had fallen greatly over 18 months and they could take that long to fill up again, he said.