Drought concern remains despite heavy rain

Recent rainfall has improved river flows in East Anglia but the overall drought remains cause for concern.

Farm leaders met Environment Agency officials for talks at NFU regional headquarters in Newmarket on Monday (23 April).

River flows in Norfolk and Suffolk have improved but recent rain will make little difference to groundwater levels and spray irrigation
prospects remain poor.

The worst is likely yet to come for many eastern region farmers – despite a voluntary 20% cut to their irrigation licences in the hope of staving off an outright ban.

Cambridgeshire grower Andrew Nottage, of Russell Smith Farms, near Duxford, said: “We’ve missed most of the rain here in south Cambridgeshire.”

The River Cam continued to have one of the lowest flows, said Mr Nottage. But the main irrigation period was still yet to come.

“We did some early irrigation on onions about three weeks ago and we haven’t had to irrigate again. But we’ll start thinking about it again in three weeks or so.”

The respite from exceptionally dry conditions of March has seen between 15-50mm of rain fall in a fortnight, bringing immediate relief to water stressed wheat.

This time last year some growers were irrigating cereals. This year the tramlines in those same fields are waterlogged.

The wet spell has been very welcome and timely for kick-starting crop development before yields were in danger of being badly dented suggest three independent UK agronomists.

Lincolnshire-based agronomist Sean Sparling said the main difference over the past six weeks is that the drought has now passed into history

“Despite a hosepipe ban, it looks like we’re likely to have some serious rain over the next three weeks,” he said.

“The significance of this for me is that yellow rust is no longer the main target; my main concern has now shifted to septoria.

“We have to go back four or five years since the last serious septoria pressure hit our wheat crops and I think a lot of people have forgotten how destructive it can be.”

“We are back to a more traditional season, there is now a lot of septoria on older leaves down the canopy, plus we have seen several rain events which will have increased the pressure further still.”

The wetter weather came as BPEX published advice to help East Anglian pig producers take practical steps to save water and money.

BPEX environment project manager Anna Davis said: “Both drought and flooding can cause water shortage and lead to higher costs for the water used.

“There are plenty of things producers can do to limit the impact on their businesses. First steps include checking for leaks, pipework maintenance and checking pig drinkers are correctly positioned to limit waste.

“Some producers may also want to look at longer-term solutions such as rainwater harvesting.”

Water was fundamental to pig production, from satisfying the pig’s basic freedom from thirst, to maintaining animal heath via effective cleaning and disinfection.

“It is also a legal requirement that all pigs have ready access to good quality, clean water.”

More on the drought

For more on the drought, see our dedicated web page.

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