IRRIGATION – A necessary headache

We are fortunate to farm on relatively light sandy soils that provide a choice of crops we can grow. Many other farmers who farm on heavy clay soils are highly restricted. This choice, can however, only be exercised if you are able to access a secure water source that can be applied through irrigation, or aggravation, as we affectionately call it, enabling you to water crops in the dry summers.

Water is becoming an ever more scarce and emotive resource as demand increases. Without water our business could not exist. During a dry summer, having a secure water resource is hugely important. We farm in what is described as being an over licensed and over abstracted region i.e. there isn’t enough water to go around.

Being part of the EU has meant we have become increasingly environmentally concerned. Legislation has driven great change around water.  I believe farming is seen by politicians as the least important user of water in the UK. The environment assumes the number one most important spot, followed closely by domestic users, then industry with farming in distant fourth. This ranking, is I think, widely accepted in the UK. In addition to this, farming can be severely restricted during the key summer months by the licensing authorities through what is known as Section 57 which is likely to restrict our usage by 50%, just when we need it the most! Why? – agriculture uses a relatively small amount of water overall but uses it at what can be, a very sensitive time of year. Restricted water availability in dry summers has a very negative impact on food production and commercial viability.

When challenged over its view on food security for the UK, the government has maintained that this isn’t a major concern of theirs, as apparently we can import food in from anywhere in the world. This I believe is not a great view but nether the less one maintained for several years – until perhaps now.

The last winter saw food shortages in certain salad lines coming out of Spain, leading to rationing by some supermarkets and empty shelves. With Brexit looming, is the UK government starting to change its view? Time will tell.

Today though, I have set up a meeting with our local Rural Payment Agency to discuss how we might access grant funding that is available to farming, to develop and secure, a better, more efficient water supply moving forward. If we can improve our position for 2018 and beyond then we may avert some pain and save some costs of investment. It costs nothing to talk and time will tell!

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