Monday, July 15, 2019

Industry calls for action over access to water

April 1, 2019 by  
Filed under News & Business

Urgent action is needed to ensure farmers receive their fair share of water – and agricultural land continues to remain productive, industry leaders have warned.

NFU vice-president Stuart Roberts said farming was being increasingly affected by volatile weather events. The government must have coherent policies in place to protect a future supply of clean water, he warned.

“Farmers bear the brunt of the impacts of extreme weather, its uncertainty and volatility,” Mr Roberts told listeners at the recent Floodex/Irrigex event in Peterborough.

“It’s not just a severe lack of water like we experienced during last summer’s agricultural drought but the flooding of agricultural land leading to a loss of crops and animals. Events like these expose the vulnerability of the farming sector.”

Potential solution

Farmers were an important part of any potential solution, said Mr Roberts. Through internal drainage boards, created to manage intricate draining systems, they were helping land flourish for agriculture, the environment and rural communities.

“The importance of these IDBs cannot be underestimated and the expertise and knowledge provided by farmers must be recognised. There must also be adequate funding to ensure that the great work farmers and IDBs are doing to protect people, property and livelihoods is not lost.”

Mr Roberts added: “We really must start taking water-related issues seriously in order to safeguard this essential resource for the future and to protect productive farmland from predicted rises in sea level and increasingly frequent flooding.”

Restrictions on irrigation this summer are increasingly likely without adequate rainfall over the coming weeks, the NFU has warned. Prospects for irrigation are moderate to poor in some areas of the region, says the Environment Agency.

The warning comes as the Country Land and Business Association said there was no justification to ending compensation for changes in water abstraction licenses. It made the statement in response Defra’s consultation, Improving the Management of Water in the Environment.

Last resort

Instead, the CLA argues that any variation of licenses to abstract water should be used as a last resort with water companies encouraged to reduce leakages, consumers pushed to be more efficient, and farmers urged to trade water and invest in winter storage facilities, first.

CLA chief land use policy advisor Susan Twining said: “While we wouldn’t condone unsustainable abstraction of water by any means, and support the collaborative efforts to address the problems, it is simply wrong for the government to propose revoking licenses without proper redress.”

She added: “Many of these licenses have been in place for decades, form a vital part of many businesses’ asset base and it is only fair that they should generate full compensation for commercial losses if taken away.”

The CLA has also highlighted concerns over the importance of fresh water to efficient crop and livestock production. Defra should be taking into account the needs of farmers and landowners and water for food should be classified as an “essential use,” it said.

Ms Twining added: “Given the importance of food production, as well as the growing concerns around climate and health pushing demand for locally grown fruit and vegetables, water for food production should be equal in status to water for public supply.

“This would mean added protection in drought situations, additional investment and research in water management and the building of resilience through better winter storage.”

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