NFU drought summit a ‘wake-up call’ to government

One of the depleted reservoirs at onion and potato growers P G Rix (Farms) Ltd which farms between B

One of the depleted reservoirs at onion and potato growers P G Rix (Farms) Ltd which farms between Bures and Dedham Picture: SAM RIX - Credit: Archant

A drought summit held to highlight the issues which farmers faced in coping with the prolonged summer heatwave was a ‘wake-up call’ to government, farmers’ leaders said.

Farming industry leaders, government officials and environment secretary Michael Gove met on Wednesday (August 1) at the National Farmers’ Union’s (NFU) Agricultural Drought summit to discuss the serious impact the drought is having on UK food production.

Farmers explained the challenges posed, including with irrigation, water shortage, heat stress on livestock, crop loss and a shortage of forage for livestock.

The meeting also heard from farming charities Farming Community Network (FCN) and the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution (RABI) about how the relentless pressure and significant extra costs were leading to concerns about their mental and physical well-being.

Farmers’ leaders called water abstraction rules to be relaxed as an emergency measure, including the ability to trade water between farms, support for transporting fodder and straw to areas where there are shortages, and fast-tracking subsidy payments to farmers.

NFU President Minette Batters said: “The impacts of the dry and hot weather have been hugely challenging for many farms across the country, with many not seeing such weather in their lifetimes.”

The summit was a “wake-up call to government and policy makers about the importance of British food production and the critical need to manage the volatility that comes with it”, she added.

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“As we move towards a new domestic agricultural policy it’s vital that market failure and volatility are treated seriously alongside productivity and delivering for the environment in order that the nation continues to have access to British food which is high quality and produced to world leading standards.”

Country Land and Business Association (CLA) president Tim Breitmeyer, who farms on the Essex-Cambridgeshire border, said: “Our members are very concerned by the current extreme weather conditions which are having serious consequences across most farming sectors and affecting food production. It is vital to relax the rules and allow farmers and land managers flexibility to abstract water without penalties and to consider early payments from the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) to assist with cash-flow issues during this heatwave.”