Monday, December 16, 2019

Lack of rain prompts concern of another dry year

February 1, 2019 by  
Filed under News & Business

Farm leaders have urged the government and water companies to help mitigate the impact of an exceptionally dry start to the year.

It follows Met Office suggestions that rainfall during January amounted to just 4% of the long-term average – potentially the driest start to any year on record. The situation is particularly worrying following lack of rain during 2018.

The NFU said the forecast for agriculture and the environment was gloomy – although water companies are said to be confident about maintaining water supplies so long as rainfall remains above 60% of the long term average over the coming months.

Attention is mainly focused on East Anglia and the Midlands. Overall, groundwater levels are normal or below normal for time of year, but some eastern region  aquifers are unlikely to return to normal even with average rainfall.

Soil moisture

NFU water specialist Paul Hammett said soil moisture deficits were increasing at time of year when they should be decreasing. “We have asked government to do all it can to avoid a repetition of last year where domestic supply was unaffected while farmers ran out of water.”

Fears are growing that some rivers will be notably low by the end of May. The NFU said the sector was in a similar position to 2017 and a better position than early 2018 – but last spring’s high rainfall had a major impact on water availability.

Wetter weather could still turn the situation around, but summer drought measures are increasingly likely if dry weather persists. The NFU will be working with the Environment Agency to discuss irrigation prospects in key catchments during early March.

The NFU has asked the government and the Environment Agency to prioritise requests from farmers asking for flexibility – with a particular focus on arrangements enabling them to late-fill farm reservoirs when water is available.

Challenging months

Melvyn Kay, of the UK Irrigation Association, said growers faced a challenging few months. “We have similar conditions brewing again this year with below average rainfall in the past few months following the 2018 summer drought.”