Farmers adopting 'water savvy techniques' as drought possibility looms

Irrigation prospects in the East of England are ‘moderate to poor', the Environment Agency has confirmed
Irrigation prospects in the East of England are ‘moderate to poor', the Environment Agency has confirmed

Farmers are adopting 'water savvy techniques' as below average rainfall triggers the industry to prepare for the possibility of another drought.

The Environment Agency (EA) has already declared irrigation prospects ‘moderate to poor’ in the East of England – in Cambridgeshire, Suffolk, Norfolk and Essex – areas reliant upon chalk aquifers for supply.

Many other areas are also classified as ‘moderate’, with much of England in a weaker position than 2018.

One Lincolnshire farmer has prioritised irrigation and invested in more soil moisture probes as his reservoir currently stands at 30 percent capacity.

Farmer and Chairman of Nene Potatoes, David Hoyles, said: “We grow a variety of root crops, peas and some cereals on farm. Last year we prioritised our irrigation focusing on our most profitable crops first, as a result our potatoes and beetroot yields turned out well.

“However, our sugar beet crop, which was not irrigated, delivered a yield almost 25 per cent less than we achieved in 2017.”

He said this year is looking like a bigger challenge than last, because the farm's reservoir is currently at 30 percent.

“We’re already irrigating, but to help us manage and target our water use we’ve invested in more soil moisture probes, we’re also getting out with a spade to check ground conditions,” Mr Hoyles said.

“A learning from last year was that we need better crop nutrition, so we’ve also been looking at different ways to do that, with bio-stimulant trials underway we’re following the ADAS guidance and taking samples from our crops as we go.”

He added: “The good thing is, we have time to prepare and we’re acting early to make sure we’re better protected.”

Levy-board AHDB is calling on farmers to consider options to place them in a stronger position for the summer.

Water Resources Scientist, Nicola Dunn said: “With time to prepare, we’d encourage farmers and growers to develop contingency plans and consider options, which could make the difference between a profit or loss situation this summer.

“Throughout winter and spring, the EA has issued certain areas with ‘hands off flow’ notices, meaning farmers and growers must stop abstracting water to top up storage facilities.

“This means later in the year, savvy techniques will be needed to help businesses get more from the water they have in the worst affected areas.”

If farmers have water storage facilities which are fully topped up, they could approach the EA to find out if it is possible to trade water with a neighbour, Ms Dunn said.

Farmers could also explore investment into techniques like precision irrigation, which could reduce the volume of water needed through the season.

“And, in the longer term if you’re planting crops, there may be more resilient varieties you could choose where the market dictates, which manage better in dry conditions,” she added.