Irrigation MOTs on the horizon

Want to be able to carry on irrigating crops?


Then you will need a green pass note before too long.


That was a key message from last week’s UK Irrigation Association conference.


Delegates heard that while agriculture uses only 1.1% of the UK abstracted water, there were growing demands that it be used more efficiently.


For new licences to be granted and old ones renewed, the Environmental Agency would, in due course, be applying three key tests, explained Jerry Knox of Cranfield University.


“They’re effectively an environmental MOT.”


Irrigators would have to justify their needs, show that their practices were environmentally sustainable and demonstrate that they used their water efficiently.


The definition of efficiency was open to debate and meant different things to different sectors, he noted.


“But I believe a good one is to assess whether the right amount of water is being used at the right time in the right place.”


It was worth remembering that other irrigators, like golf and racecourses, had different objectives.


“So we need to develop some generic methods.”


Auditing was a useful tool for demonstrating good practice, Dr Knox explained.


“It’s all about understanding your system.


It seems simplistic and obvious, but we need to get back to basics to find out what we really need to record.


It’s no good collecting data for data’s sake.”


Auditing involved collecting weather data – the “fundamental building blocks” – details of rainfall and evapo-transpiration (ET), monitoring of in-field water use and changes in soil moisture, and assessing and optimising the irrigation machinery used.


The process did not need to be costly, he stressed.


A simple £300 ET gauge coupled with a rain gauge was a cost-effective alternative to weather stations costing £1500-2000.


In a recent survey of 80 farmers all considered they had scope to improve their operations, he noted.


“50% thought they had moderate opportunities and 50% minor.”


A self-test “Understanding your system” could be downloaded from www.ukia.org, and the results of a one-year EA-funded project on efficiency and water auditing should be available in the summer.


andrew.blake@rbi.co.uk