East Anglian farmers briefed today at drought ‘summit’

Farmers and growers across eastern England will be briefed about efforts to ease official restrictions at the third regional drought “summit” at Newmarket today.

Staff in the Environment Agency’s eastern region have been praised by farmers for prompt action to allow some abstractors to fill winter storage reservoirs where flows have allowed.

Rain was recorded last Sunday and Monday across most of eastern England, some areas have seen half this amount.

Farmers’ leader Peter Kendall said that the rain had been welcome but it had not been uniform.

“We’ve had 18mm at home in Bedfordshire and on another farm at Royston we had 13mm. And in parts of Suffolk and Essex, they’ve had 12mm to 15mm,” he added.

The latest Environment Agency fortnightly figures on the eastern area’s soil moisture deficit was now 28.56mm, according to the hydrology team. There has been a slight reduction in Norfolk’s deficit, which now stood at 32.5mm, Suffolk was 19.3mm and Essex 33mm.

Mr Kendall, who met west Suffolk and Cambridgeshire abstractors at the Duke of Grafton’s Euston estate, near Thetford, said that the Environment Agency has reacted positively. “There are some good examples, following the rain, where there’s been a lifting of the restrictions and people can still pump,” he said.

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One abstractor on the Nar had pumped for the first time this winter because licence holders had agreed to “share” water, he was told at the Swaffham meeting.

Mr Kendall said: “This is also about making the most of every drop. Whatever happens from here, we need to be using water in a smart way.

“We’re getting messages that although the Environment Agency on the ground wants to be helpful, some of the processes they have to go through is slowing us down.

“In the longer term, the government needs to pull its finger out and seriously engage to enable the building of the infrastructure that we require.

“We need some long-term strategic thinking into water and prioritising food production around water and also getting a fair sharer of the available water.”

There was a message too that if farmers were voluntarily looking to make best use of water, then the same must apply to water companies too.

Mr Kendall stressed that water was vital to East Anglia’s food and processing industries.

“It is a very important food production region but also agriculture is massively important to employment and income generation in East Anglia, “ he said.

While farmers recognised that they had to live with extreme weather events, the industry did not need additional challenges from government “making life harder and changing the rules on taxation, for example”.