Farmer Focus: Challenge of securing enough water for farming

I am of course fully aware that those of you outside  this region have generally been struggling with too much water over the past couple of months, but that certainly hasn’t been the case here in East Anglia. 

It has been incredibly dry, forage maize has died on its feet, sugar beet is struggling and seed-beds on fields that haven’t been irrigated all summer are hard to make, so it’s all about water – in our case, the lack of it. 

In an attempt to come up with some solutions for water security the NFU hosted a fantastic get-together at Stoneleigh recently, bringing farmers from across the country and across the sectors, together with Defra, the Environment Agency, the newly formed regional water groups and other organisations.

The aim was to try to identify potential ways that we can all work together across the regions. 

See also: 3 pesticide approval changes to watch this autumn

One of the interesting figures quoted was that livestock use just about the same amount of water as the irrigated crop sector. Of course some of that demand is satisfied from streams, rivers and the like.

However, as climate change continues to bite, some of those sources will come under pressure, no doubt that will most likely add to the already increasing demand on the public supply network. 

Even those with an insular view of their sector and their own geographic location agreed with the rest of us from the dry lands that one of the most simple solutions is to store the water that does fall.

Just how to make that happen in a simple and cost effective way was the question.

Moving water

Next has to be how to move water around to where it is needed. That one is going to be much more interesting, challenging and dare I say it, divisive. Who will provide storage and the networks required and more importantly, how much will that cost?

I always reckon that water could be twice the price at the tap and the vast majority of consumers wouldn’t even notice. 

All of these issues were very apparent when we hosted a load of Australian visitors recently, they were quite shocked at how dry it could be in the UK, expecting to find lush green pasture. They certainly were disappointed.   

I see from the calendar that my next piece is due on 1 November. Will we be in or out? That’s just one of the questions that’s on my mind at the moment.

Andrew Blenkiron manages the 4,400ha Euston Estate, south of Thetford. Enterprises include combinable and root crops, plus sugar beet. The estate supports let land, sheep, outdoor pigs, poultry, suckler cows, horses and stewardship.