25 September 1998

Fears of dearer irrigation licences

FARMERS in East Anglia are worried that the costs of abstraction licences for field irrigation could rise substantially in future years.

The concern has been sparked by a suggestion from the regional branch of the Environment Agency that abstractors should in future pay a "more appropriate" rate reflecting the true value of water.

According to the agency, currently engaged in a long term review, farmers and other businesses abstracting water from boreholes or rivers are currently charged only 5% of the prices paid for water company supplies.

"One measure that could result in more efficient use of water would be to charge abstractors at a more appropriate rate reflecting the true value of water," it says.

Paul Hammett, senior technical adviser for the NFU in East Anglia, said that most farmers in the region would say that the existing costs of abstraction licences were fair and reasonable. "Many would agree to pay more if they could be guaranteed a supply when they need it in the summer," he said.

But abstractors were currently subject to bans and restrictions during drought conditions.

Mr Hammett said the trend was towards the construction of on-farm reservoirs – filled in winter, when abstraction charges were low, and used in summer when Environment Agency charges could increase tenfold.

Farmers would like more help from the agency in simplifying and speeding up reservoir applications which sometimes took two years to reach fruition.

Among the big farm reservoirs being constructed in East Anglia at the moment is one on the 2833ha (7,000 acre) Waldersey Estate straddling the Cambs- Norfolk border. The estate, which has been affected by irrigation restrictions in past years, grows onions and potatoes, as well as renting land for carrots, parsnips and lettuces.

Farm manager Peter Tegerdine said the new reservoir, now only a quarter-built, would hold 100 million gallons of water. "It is mainly because we need a guaranteed supply and it will also protect us from future increases in summer abstraction licences," he said. &#42