Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Never a dull moment in world of irrigation

September 24, 2020 by  
Filed under Crops

Growers have some respite to a challenging season thanks to a new website, says Melvyn Kay.

Jeremy Clarkson summed up the farming year nicely in his Sunday Times column last month: “We have had the wettest February on record, the driest May, and the coldest July since 1988 and now a wet end to August. Crops have fried, frozen, drowned, and drowned again.”

Mr Clarkson is filming for a new series about farming for Amazon Prime. The series is due to be broadcast next year – and promises to be a warts and all look at the challenges faced by growers and livestock producers.

Irrigators with full reservoirs fared reasonably well at the beginning of this year – only to report that the extended agricultural drought in May meant they were running on low or empty by July. They included growers across the region.

It is no consolation to know that farmers on the continent are suffering as well. Researchers report that the 2018-2019 European drought event was unprecedented in the last 250 years with substantial implications for vegetation health.

Policy makers and farmers in France and Germany have mostly persuaded themselves that droughts were periodic misfortunes. They now see more irrigation as the way forward. But do they have enough water?

Good news

But looking ahead there is some good news for irrigators, particularly those who rely on summer abstractions. In March, the UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology in Oxford launched the UK Water Resources Portal* that provides almost real-time data on river flows.

The portal also provides up to date information on rainfall, soil moisture, and groundwater levels at local and national scale. Users are able to view data in any part of the country by clicking on an interactive map.

This website should enable irrigators to better plan their abstractions and take advantage of localised storms that suddenly increase flow over short time periods and would normally flow to waste.

It also offers access to historical records to compare current events with long-term averages and significant events from the past 50 years. This can help abstractors better understand the state of local water resources – and provide early warning of potential droughts and floods.

Data sets

The portal brings together several data sets from the Environment Agency, the Met Office, COSMOS, and British Geological Survey all in one place in an easy to use format.

River flow data comes directly from the Environment Agency.

This means farmers can now see the same data the Environment Agency uses to make decisions about flow restrictions, and enable them to plan and adjust their management strategies accordingly when flows start to approach abstraction limits.

The portal provides access to records for river flows, rainfall, and groundwater going back to the 1960s, while the soil moisture data starts in 2014. River flow and groundwater measurements come from the UK’s 1,500 gauging stations.

COSMOS-UK provides the soil moisture estimates at field scale on a daily time step at around 60 sites across the UK for a range of soil and vegetation types. This can provide farmers with a useful comparison with their local farm scale soil moisture observations.

* The portal can be accessed at