Suffolk: Farmer predicts GM crops within a decade as drought takes hold

GENETICALLY-modified crops could be grown in Suffolk within a decade as severe water shortages grip the region, it has been claimed.

Suffolk farmer Richard Wrinch says he can foresee drought-resistant crops being introduced to help counter predicted cuts in water levels.

His view was backed by the National Farmers Union who called for “serious consideration” to be given to the development of drought-resistant crops.

Mr Wrinch, who has invested �45,000 in a private reservoir on his Shotley farm this year, said his peers should look at developing new water supplies.

“I think more farmers - even those that don’t grow potatoes or salad crops - have to look at the possibilities [of new water sources].

“We have to look at groups of farmers sharing water, sharing resources. This is already happening but it needs to happen more widely.

“I would be quite surprised if within 10 years we are not starting to have genetically-modified drought-resistant varieties of various crops.”

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But Andrew Long, who runs Hall Farm at Fornham St Martin, said GM crops would not completely solve the problem of less water.

He said: “There’s a view that GM plants can be drought-tolerant or drought-resistant but that will never overtake water - to get yield we still need water.

“In the short term it’s not the priority - in the short term it’s to ensure everyone has enough water.”

Mr Long, who is planning to build a fourth private reservoir, added: “It’s very important to plan a way forward for the future of growing food in this country.”

In March a report concluded the east of England is likely to face severe water shortages over the next two decades. The research - carried out in conjunction with experts at the Anglia Ruskin University - cited climate changes, new rainfall patterns and a growing population as being behind the problems.

Paul Hammett, senior policy adviser at the National Farmers Union (East Anglia), said: “I think it’s really important that there is some serious consideration given to the development of drought-resistant and drought-tolerant crops. Not withstanding the current public reticence about genetically-modified crops they could really make a big difference.

“I don’t know whether they will be [introduced] sooner or later but the whole genetically-modified thing needs to be debated and thought through.”

Mr Hammett - who said improved rainfall so far in April had “bought farmers some time” - urged more investment in securing water supplies.

He added: “Throughout Suffolk and Essex there’s been significant investment in reservoirs and modern irrigation equipment over the past decade.

“The dry spell that we’re going through are making lots of farmers think again about forward planning and forward investment.”

Guy Smith, whose St Osyth farm is the driest in Great Britain, said it was prudent to invest in private reservoirs and explore genetically-modified crops.

But he added: “I’m a bit sceptical about changing long-term weather patterns. I think we tend to overreact.”