Thursday, November 15, 2018

Water Bank helps farmers during agricultural drought

September 3, 2018 by  
Filed under News & Business

A new service designed to help match farmers and growers who urgently need water with neighbouring farm businesses who have a surplus has been launched by the NFU.

The Water Bank follows an appeal at last month’s Agricultural Drought Summit in London by the NFU and other industry leaders to the Environment Agency for more flexibility in the abstraction licensing system.

The agency has since agreed to consider and approve wherever possible fast-track, short-term trades of water to help farmers cope with pressures on food production caused by the unprecedented spell of hot, dry weather.

The agency says water trading between farmers must be localised – with donors and recipients needing to operate within the same hydrological unit, meaning the same river or groundwater aquifer area.

‘Irrigation challenges’

NFU vice president Stuart Roberts said the new service would help unlock farmers’ access to much-needed water. “The NFU made it abundantly clear at the drought summit that many farming sectors are being impacted by challenges around irrigation and water shortage.

“We emphasised to the Environment Agency that there is a narrow window of opportunity for local and rapid decision-making for the remainder of the irrigation season. We’re pleased that the agency has taken our concerns on board.”

Environment Agency head of water resources Paul Hickey said: “We know that farmers are facing considerable pressures in responding to drought conditions and we want to support them by allowing them to flex their abstraction licences in the most serious cases to safeguard food production and animal welfare.”

The NFU says the launch of the Water Bank as a web-based noticeboard could be of considerable help to farmers facing shortages of water for fruit and vegetable production as annual abstraction volumes are used up. Livestock who rely on abstracted water are also at risk.

Useful evidence

Mr Roberts said: “We will keep looking for solutions that help alleviate the pressures that are building on the farming industry caused by this agricultural drought. It really is a timely reminder that we shouldn’t take food production for granted in this country.”

Speaking after attending the drought summit, Defra secretary Michael Gove said “incredibly useful” to hear evidence of how farmers had been affected by the hot weather. He added: “Our priority is ensuring that we support high-quality food production in this country.”

Mr Gove added: “We are already regulating more flexibly to ease some of the immediate pressures for farmers. We will be staying in contact with the NFU and others on the industry’s plans for longer-term resilience.”

Defra said the Environment Agency was working closely with farmers to allow flexible abstraction licensing. These arrangements would only be allowed if the agency was reasonably satisfied there would be no adverse impacts on the environment or other water users.

For details, visit www.nfuonline.com/water-bank

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