Growers dependent on abstracted water must work together to become much more engaged in the battle for water.

At a demonstration day in East Anglia organised by the UK Irrigation Association in support of the Sustainable Food and Farming Strategy, some 300 growers and members of the trade agreed that the role of abstractor groups was essential to safeguard and make available water for agriculture.

With a raft of legislation now impinging on abstractor rights including the Water Framework Directive, Habitats Directive and the Water Act, it was now essential for anyone relying on water to become part of the allocation process and to work in groups.

“No water equals no farming [for my business],” Elveden Farms’ Lindsay Hargreaves, who hosted the event near Thetford in Norfolk, told Farmers Weekly. “The regulator can’t deal with individuals. We all have to pull in the right direction.

“There is pressure and uncertainty but we have a regulatory process and we want to believe in it and give it our best shot. There is a willingness to find voluntary solutions within the regulatory framework.”

“We have to encourage abstractors to ‘think catchment’,” the National Farmers Union‘s Paul Hammett said. “They need to organise into groups with our help so they can negotiate their own solutions.”

He believed the NFU also had a role to help grower groups to explain the importance of water for farming to the regulators, to help farmers become better users of water, and to represent farmers’ need for winter storage reservoirs, at the planning and grant level.

“In the future, the best opportunities to get financial help to build reservoirs will be the schemes where farmers share water,” Mr Hammett said.

In most catchments water was a shared and increasingly scarce resource, he pointed out. “We are farming in a region [East Anglia] where there’s huge pressure to protect water-dependent habitats and pressure from housing development.”

But there was a growing belief that farming’s case for water was being heard at the highest level.

“I recently gave evidence to the House of Lords science and technology committee with regard to water management, and reading their report, I thought they gave due consideration to water for agriculture,” Mr Hargreaves said.

The Environment Agency was keen to promote new abstractor groups within the Anglian region, the agency’s Geoff Brighty confirmed. “We’re looking to try to secure some funding to support these initiatives.”

• Contact Geoff Brighty for more information on Anglian abstractor group funding on 01733 464415, geoff.brighty@environment-agency.gov.uk

• Use water better? Handy tips and more in Crops 15 July