Irrigation fears for growers in the south-east of England

Farmers in the south-east of England should expect some disruption to their irrigation plans a drought report issued today (24 February) by the Environment Agency concludes.

The dry winter has led to further hosepipe restrictions being announced in Kent and Sussex. While these do not directly affect irrigation, it’s a sign that water supplies are expected to tighten this summer.

The Environment Agency report sets out three possible scenarios: average rainfall from February to April; 80% of the average during that period; or 60%.

In Kent and Sussex, in the worst case scenario (60% rainfall) farmers would “find groundwater and surface sources to be very unreliable and could expect restrictions on spray irrigation”, the report says.

Even if rainfall is average until April, the Environment Agency is predicting irrigation restrictions “if the summer is hot and dry”.

In Sussex, the EA’s water resources technical officer Wendy Rogers says plans for dealing with a drought are already underway.

“We have already spoken to some of our growers and have obtained agreements with them as to how we will manage this. Last year we did divide some catchments into segments and allow some growers to irrigate on certain days, and other growers to irrigate on other days – it seemed to work quite well.”

So far, Mrs Rogers is not aware growers in Sussex, Kent or Hampshire have had problems filling winter storage reservoirs, and she does not predict a crisis in her area for those relying on summer abstraction.

“This year we may ask growers to do the same thing [only irrigate on certain days] – that will depend on river flows, but the river flows aren’t too badly off, it’s the groundwater that’s the problem.” Most abstractors in Sussex do not rely on groundwater, she explains.

In the rest of the south-east, including Essex and south Cambridgeshire the EA’s report says spray irrigation restrictions could be introduced even with average rainfall from now until April “if the summer is hot and dry”.

Worried about irrigation this summer? Why not email FWCropsFWi@rbi.co.uk and let us know about your concerns or any action you envisage taking.