25 April 1997

EA spray irrigation ban in driest areas

SPRAY irrigation restrictions have been imposed on farmers in the West Midlands and East Anglia as they face the driest conditions in 200 years.

The Environment Agency confirmed this week that it had imposed 160 voluntary restrictions and three irrigation cessation orders in East Anglia and a further 63 in the Severn Trent area.

Met Office figures show rainfall in the Severn Trent, Anglian and Thames water areas was between 20% and 30% below average over the past two years.

Most of East Anglia is experiencing similar levels of rainfall to Jerusalem and weather experts offer no hope of any long-term improvement.

Trevor Davies, director of the Climatic Research Unit, University of East Anglia, said he expected the drier summers to continue.

"Summer rainfall in this part of the world will continue to reduce slightly (5-10%) in the next 30-50 years. There will be fewer rain days and longer dry periods, but when it does rain it will be heavier, which will not aid soil conditions.

Essex NFU county chairman, Dan Squier, who farms 688ha (1700 acres) at Rochford, near Southend, said his arable farm received just 30cm (12in) of rain last year.

Long-term figures show Essex is the driest county in the country and Mr Squiers farm is on the verge of being in a semi-arid area.

He has had to switch pea and linseed planting to the autumn because of the dry spring conditions, but this year there still has not been enough rain.

"The winter linseed is particularly badly affected and our wheat crop is suffering. The nitrogen fertiliser applied simply has not gone down to the roots. And the potatoes on nearby farms are just producing clouds of dust."

Mr Squier said he hoped EU farm ministers would take into account the drought in many parts of Europe when they negotiated the annual set-aside rate. &#42