Farmland at risk

A SUFFOLK farmer will warn today that �7million could be lost to the local economy if coastal sea defences are not maintained.

Speaking at a conference at the Aldeburgh Food and Drink Festival, Sir Edward Greenwell will outline a worrying scenario that would see the loss of up to 1,687 hectares of marshland.

The Orford farmer claims that the Government’s near total withdrawal of funding for flood defences around the Alde and Ore Estuary could lead to potato and vegetable production being cut by more than two thirds.

His predictions come following a field study carried out by Cranfield University last year.

Almost 80% of the fresh water used for irrigating the land comes from the low lying marshes of the estuary and without it, the light soils of the Suffolk Sandlings would be infertile.

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Furthermore, the production from the marshes themselves, mostly cereals, grass and sugar beet, worth �630,000 in 2010, would be completely lost, he says.

Jobs would also be lost as vegetables and potatoes demand more labour than cereal crops.

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“Last year the total sum earned from farm development around the estuary was �4.2m, spread among 98 full-time and 136 part-time people,’’ Sir Edward will report. “If production was to fall as predicted, the money earned locally would fall by nearly �3m to �1.24m.’’

Speaking ahead of the conference last night, Sir Edward said: “We have been driving agriculture quite intensively in this area on the back of fresh water used for irrigation, so the impact this could have on the local community would be considerable if all this industry was to drop away.”

The conference - entitled An Appetite for Change, Suffolk and the Sea - is taking place at the Hoffmann Building at Snape Maltings.

In addition to examining the threat from the sea of low lying land, it will also focus on the over-exploitation of the marine environment. Experts, including scientists, environmentalists and local landowners will be sharing their thoughts on both topics and the urgent need for change.

Sir Edward added that while the government’s cut in flood defence budgets spelled disastrous consequences, there would be new means of finding funding in the future.

“I think we accept that the future is not going to be like the past. There is the possibility of raising more money and taking more control locally.

“Funding for flood defences would have to come from local authorities, while the powers of the Internal Drainage Boards would be raised. Work can also be done by farmers themselves and local communities, often more cheaply than larger bodies who have hundreds of staff.

“We spend a lot of time talking to the Environment Agency but central government funding is being cut and they are controlled by that.”

He added: “The EA have done all they can to help local people get on and solve some of the problems themselves.”

No one was available for comment from the Environment Agency last night.

Sir Edward will be speaking to the conference on The Threat from the Sea to Suffolk Farming and How We Can Respond To It at 3pm today.

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