Plans to help farmers fill irrigation reservoirs over the winter abstraction season could ease the stress on the farming industry if properly implemented, the NFU said.
A statement released by the Environment Agency sets out a number of new measures intended to ensure there is enough water available for agriculture if 2012 continues to be a dry year, as predicted.
The measures include better access to high flows in the summer period, the ability to increase pumping rates, a temporary relaxation of certain restrictions on abstraction where possible and potential extension of the winter abstraction period beyond 31 March.
NFU deputy president Meurig Raymond welcomed the plans to offer farmers greater flexibility over water abstraction.
“This is a really positive step by the EA, in part a result of the NFU’s calls for a greater regulatory flexibility,” he said.
“We acknowledge and appreciate the close working relationship that has developed between our organisations over the past 12 months.”
But Mr Meurig said many union members needed reassurance the EA would not be seeking to make significant and permanent alterations to the licences. For example, by reducing the volume of water farmers are allowed to abstract if they submitted short-term variations in their licences.
He added: “These measures need to be complemented by water company drought plan actions and emergency plans for supplying drinking water for livestock, particularly housed pigs and poultry.”
Environment Agency drought manager, Pauline Smith, said: “We know drought is a worrying time for farmers and we are doing everything we can to make things easy for the farming community.
“We will continue to be as flexible as possible around the abstraction regulations while protecting the environment.”
For more see our drought page