THE GOVERNMENT wants farmers to dig on-farm reservoirs to safeguard water supplies under threat from global warming, junior DEFRA minister Elliot Morley has revealed.

At a press conference in London on Weds (Feb 9), Mr Morley said as the supply, distribution and quality of water in the UK will increasingly become affected by climate change, the government is looking at ways of increasing the efficiency of water use and developing means of storing water.

The government predicts that winters will become warmer and wetter and summers will become drier, so storage of winter rainfall is likely to become a crucial issue.

“DEFRA will provide support for the development of on-farm water reservoirs,” Mr Morley said, pointing out reservoirs will also benefit the countryside and biodiversity.

But Mr Morley added that the government in some regions will impose restrictions on water abstraction licenses.

“Water abstraction licensing has been out of control in some parts of the country,” Mr Morley said. He predicted that licences causing environmental damage will increasingly be withdrawn in the years ahead.

Junior DEFRA minister Lord Whitty said grass-and-water-intensive agriculture was likely to be pushed further west in the next 50 years. This is as the climate in the east of England is expected to become more dry.

Among other threats to UK agriculture associated with climate change, the government has said while it expects to see increased flood events there will also be more uncertainty about water supplies.

It also believes it will see increased heat stress in farm livestock which will have implications for milk yield, herd fertility and general welfare.

Increased rainfall is also likely to reduce the time available for autumn cultivations and autumn grazing could also be restricted by wetter soils.

But the government has also identified a number of opportunities coming with climate change in the years ahead.

One of these is increased winter temperatures which will allow earlier sowings and plantings and increase the potential growing season.

Higher temperatures may also make it possible to grow new crops or for regions of the UK to grow traditional crops which have hitherto been restricted by climate.

The government has also said that more severe climate change effects in other parts of the world may give UK farmers a competitive edge for some crops.

paul.andersen@rbi.co.uk