‘Key month’ for farmers facing water shortages

JANUARY could be a “key month” in working out how badly agriculture may be hit by water shortages this year, farmers’ leaders believe.

“We think that January will be a key month because the (Environment) Agency will be able to offer increasingly reliable predictions about spring and summer water availability at a time when growers might still have some limited room for manoeuver on cropping plans and licensing/water needs,” says National Farmers’ Union (NFU) senior policy adviser Paul Hammett.

He is due to meet with with farmers representing each of the high risk catchment areas in East Anglia to discuss the ongoing situation on January 17 at the regional NFU offices in Newmarket.

“We are liaising closely with abstractor groups and ‘barometer farmers’ in all our key catchments in the region, and we are organising meetings with the agency for members in some of our higher risk catchments on reques,” he says.

“The level of rain we have had over the last few days will be of great help, but it will have little impact on the long term prospects. We need much more rain to fall in the next few months. We are well below where we should be.”

The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) called an emergency drought meeting before Christmas attended by the NFU and other bodies to discuss the implications for farmers and growers.

The Environment Agency has said it is happy to discuss licensing needs with farmers, but it reported very few were coming forward, said Mr Hammett.

Most Read

“The message seems clear – if you are concerned about your licence and water availability on your farm, contact your area office (in Brampton or Ipswich) sooner rather than later to discuss a range of options that might be available to you,” he says.

“The NFU’s current priority is to monitor the ability of reservoir owners to fill them, with a number of our river flows still too low to allow winter filling because of ‘Hands Off Flow (HOF)’ restrictions.

“Farmers affected by this should maintain close contact with the Agency and seize any opportunity presented to assist reservoir fill. These could include extending the abstraction period, varying daily abstraction limits, taking high flows when they occur and using larger pumps, to name just a few.”