Increasing water pressure

EAST Anglian farmers are stepping up efforts to make the most of water in the wake of this year’s drought, a major new survey shows.

More than half of those surveyed (53%) by the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) in the region say they intend to prepare for similar periods of dry weather over the next five years.

Arable farmers, who traditionally rely on rainfall to nurture their crops, are those most likely to be making preparations to cope with further dry spells.

The 2011 NFU Water Survey also shows that almost eight out of 10 farmers (78%) already employ water management measures and more than a quarter (28%) say they have improved efficiency over the last five years.

NFU East Anglia environment adviser Paul Hammett said: “Water is a precious resource and this survey shows the industry is already taking steps to conserve and make the best use of it – from constructing new reservoirs to working together in abstractor groups.

“But farmers and growers are likely to face even greater challenges in future as population growth, climate change and environmental regulation add to the pressure on water supplies. This survey demonstrates just how important a secure supply of water is for food production.”

The NFU would like to see better recognition by Government and its agencies of the use of voluntary abstraction restrictions when water supplies are low.

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It is also calling for a transparent, consistent but flexible pproach by the Environment Agency on the regulation of abstraction licences, more research and development into drought-tolerant plant varieties and investment incentives, such as appropriate exemptions, tax incentives and grants to encourage the use of more efficient irrigation systems.

More than 500 farmers from across the country took part in the survey, which the NFU carries out every five years. The majority of farmers surveyed only use small amounts of water, less than 20 cubic metres a day, and 71% use mains water from the public water supply.

Half of arable farmers and 41% of horticulture producers who responded have an abstraction licence. Of those, 55% have limits on their licence which means that, under certain conditions, they will not be allowed to abstract water.

Mr Hammett said they were hopeful a ban on water abstractions can be avoided through forward planning and the use of voluntary measures during what looks like being a difficult growing season next year.”