EA clarifies licensing maze for farmers

24 January 1997

Steady growth in demand for water in vegetable crops

Continuing our series looking at water use we examine the latest forecasts of availability and what the Environment Agency thinks farmers should do to cope. Amanda Dunn reports

DEMAND for irrigation water is forecast to soar by 1% a year from now until 2021 and by up to 2% in intensive vegetable growing areas.

That is the key finding of a study into agricultural demand for spray irrigation, undertaken to underpin the Environment Agencys water resources development strategy.

"We started by taking each of the major irrigated crops, on a county-by-county basis, and determining what we felt would happen to that crop area," says Keith Weatherhead, lecturer in soil and water engineering at Silsoe College, Cranfield University.

Factors affecting crop choice, such as EU and government policies, were also considered. So too were the economics of irrigating crops, the proportion of each crop which would be irrigated and how much water would be applied. Technological developments were also included.

"The conclusions we reached showed a growth in demand for water from the agricultural sector, of 1% year on year, throughout the 30-year period," says Mr Weatherhead. That assumed there were no restrictions on the availability of water resources.

This was significantly lower than an earlier prediction made by the Advisory Council for Agriculture and Horticulture in 1980 which suggested a 6% annual increase in demand.

"We projected a shift towards irrigating a larger proportion of high value crops, such as potatoes and vegetables," says Mr Weatherhead. "In 1995, albeit a dry year, more than 50% of all water used for spray irrigation went on potatoes.

"Demand from sugar beet barely altered and water requirement for cereal crops and grassland declined steadily.

A shift to more complete irrigation is also forecast. Irrigation used to be supplementary to rainfall, he says. Now more farmers are aiming to meet all their water requirements through irrigation. That is largely due to supermarket pressure for quality and consistency of produce.

Areas where there is a large proportion of higher value crops, will show the highest growth in demand, says Mr Weatherhead. "The East Anglian region is predicted to have a total increase in demand of 58% over the 30 years from 1990-2020, whereas regions such as the Thames region, will only increase by 3%."

Initial comparisons for the first five-year period, against MAFF irrigation results for 1995, show the predictions are accurate. However, Mr Weatherhead believes demand may be underestimated, as no account was taken of global warming.

"Once farmers begin to accept the reality of climate change, everyone will want to irrigate. There could be a significant upsurge in demand," he says. Some suggestions point to a 27% increase in irrigation for this reason alone up to 2021.

"With this in mind, it is vital that farmers secure their water supply, use it more efficiently by employing trickle irrigation or more effective overhead irrigation, and make best economic use of the water they do have, by using it for the most valuable crops and introducing more accurate scheduling," he recommends.


&#8226 1% increase year on year.

&#8226 Up to 2% in veg areas.

&#8226 More on high value crops.

&#8226 More complete irrigation.

&#8226 Secure water supply now.

&#8226 Use water efficiently and economically.

&#8226 1% increase year on year.

&#8226 Up to 2% in veg areas.

&#8226 More on high value crops.

&#8226 More complete irrigation.

&#8226 Secure water supply now.

&#8226 Use water efficiently and economically.

A1% year-on-year rise in irrigation demand is forecast for the next 25 years.

EA clarifies licensing maze for farmers

MANAGEMENT initiatives and better use of existing resources will be needed to meet demand, says the Environment Agency.

"The recent 30-year forecast shows quite clearly that water is going to become an increasingly scarce commodity," warns Richard Streeter, water resources manager at the EA.

To help achieve those goals the Water Resources Group was established in 1994. It is chaired by MAFF with representations from the ministry, ADAS, CLA, DoE, NFU, EA, UKIA and WOD.

One of the groups first findings was a lack of understanding in the industry. That emerged when it visited farms on the Isle of Wight where water is naturally scarce.

As a result the EA is producing a simple question and answer list to guide farmers through the intricacies of licensing. "User-friendly leaflets are also being published, providing farmers with information on how to improve efficiency in spray irrigation," says Mr Streeter.

Input is also being given to planning guidance notes, to help local authorities better understand the role of reservoirs in agriculture. And a shared R&D programme is helping focus research in the right direction, Mr Streeter explains.

In future he believes winter storage will feature heavily. Stored water offers the benefits of guaranteed supply and no usage restrictions. "In order to promote winter storage, considerable discounts are offered. Charges for winter abstraction are only 10% of the normal summer cost," he explains.

He also urges farmers to look at the scope for working together to make best use of available resources. "They may wish to consider buying each others water rights," he says.

"If one farmer has installed a reservoir and consequently has more summer abstraction than he needs, these rights may be sold to someone else, subject to EA approval. Where water is totally licensed this may be the only way of securing a supply.

"Alternatively, farmers may group together and pool licences to enable the total water resource to be used more flexibly," explains Mr Streeter.

"If there is more water in a particular area, and insufficient in another, instead of individual farmers approaching the EA to modify arrangements, all farmers can group together and exchange individual licences for one large licence which will offer more flexibility," he says.

"Were increasingly seeing management groups forming. Interested parties meet regularly – early and frequent planning benefits everyone," he concludes.

&#8226 Can I sell water I dont need to my neighbour?

&#8226 How will this affect my charges?

&#8226 Can I club together with other farmers to achieve more flexibility?

&#8226 Can I irrigate land not specified on my licence?

Next weeks Water Watch article looks at the benefits of measuring soil moisture content throughout the season.

New reservoirs for more winter storage is an EA aim.

See more