With more extreme weather a result of climate change, water management will be an important skill for farmers.
“In 2007, 42,000ha of farmland were flooded,” says Jamie Letts, lead agricultural climate change adviser for the Environment Agency.
“A total of 1.3m hectares of agricultural land is on a flood plain, with half of the most productive land in that figure.”
All farms have a role in managing water, he maintains. Upland farms can absorb water to prevent it running down to lowland areas, dairy and pig units need to use water as efficiently as possible and prevent pollution, while arable farmers need to ensure that soil can absorb water at times of excess making it available to crops in times of drought.
“It is a question of climate-change proofing your farm,” says Mr Letts.
“By taking action you not only prepare the farm for change, but also help it run more efficiently. For example, one dripping tap will leak 90 litres of water a day costing £27 a year.”
Acknowledging the large-scale investment that many dairy and intensive livestock producers will have to make to meet NVZ rules, Mr Letts urges those making the commitment to factor in the effects of climate change.
Advice for improved field water management includes regularly checking for good soil structure, drilling tramlines across slopes where possible, minimising compaction by using low pressure tyres, maintain soil organic matter at levels above 2%, removing late harvest compaction and capturing run-off from fields and tracks into sediment pools. The planting of rows of native trees can reduce water run-off and increase infiltration by 60%.
Mr Letts urges farmers to check if their farms are at risk of flooding by contacting the Environment Agency. Farmers should then develop an emergency plan for flooding and reduce run-off from buildings by diverting water to storage ponds. He also advises farmers to check that insurance will cover losses from flooding.