Potato field being irrigated© Tim Scrivener

Potato and vegetable growers are being urged to take part in a crucial AHDB water use survey to generate robust data showing how they could be affected by forthcoming changes in water abstraction rules for crop irrigation.

With changes due to be implemented over the next four years, AHDB’s Horticulture and Potato divisions are concerned that growers may not have access to sufficient water in some areas to maintain and grow their businesses.

The levy board points to recent NFU research in the Cam and Ely Ouse river catchment which concluded the financial value of irrigation for potato and vegetable production was £91m, with £40m attributed to groundwater. The report concludes time-limited abstraction licences could mean growers scaling back production considerably.

See also: Farmers face ‘wake-up call’ on irrigation

“There is still an opportunity for the industry to inform policy, and the way it is implemented, to secure adequate water supplies,” says AHDB Potatoes board member and Suffolk potato and vegetable grower Bruce Kerr.

“However, the current lack of reliable data about water use is hampering the industry’s ability to provide sufficient evidence for policymakers.”

Water is vital to agriculture with the potato and horticultural sectors having the highest requirements, as irrigation is key to achieving the necessary yield and quality standards to satisfy retailer specifications. 

“Field vegetables and potatoes are where future legislation could have the most direct impact on business viability,” says Mr Kerr. “It is vital we generate detailed data that reflects the wide range of crops, business types, geographical locations and ways of obtaining water. By building as clear an understanding as possible of our water use, this AHDB survey aims to provide an evidence base.” 

The AHDB survey will roll out in January and February 2016, with growers contacted directly in the coming weeks by Ricardo Energy & Environment – a global sustainability consultancy which is carrying out the survey. An online survey will also go live in late January.