Norfolk farmers highlight water security worries with Defra minister

Norfolk farmers stressed the vital need for continued access to water to grow arable crops to feed the nation during a visit to the region by Defra secretary Therese Coffey.

NFU Norfolk branch chairman Tim Papworth hosted the roundtable on Friday 12 May at Lodge Farm, a 1,200ha arable farm of light sandy loam soils in Felmingham, North Walsham, which specialises in growing wheat, barley, oilseed rape, potatoes and sugar beet.

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Ms Coffey toured the farm, which is a specialist potato producer and contract farms arable land, before meeting East Anglian farmers for talks on the new Environmental Land Management schemes, seasonal labour, tenancies and the Plan for Water, among other topics.

Speaking after the event, Mr Papworth told Farmers Weekly Ms Coffey’s visit was part of an itinerary including visits to the John Innes Centre and the Colman’s factory, and culminating in a lunch with Conservative party members.

The farmer said Ms Coffey visited his farm with an entourage of five civil servants and was not timely.

Last year, during the dry spring Mr Papworth had to irrigate all his crops in the spring, including sugar beet. By contrast, this spring prolonged periods of rainfall have delayed potato plantings.

Mr Papworth told Ms Coffey access to water was essential for him and the region’s growers to be able to grow crops to feed the nation.

However, he has been waiting since 2017 for the Environment Agency (EA) to renew his time-limited water abstraction licence.

“I applied in 2018 to have our three abstraction licences renewed with the EA, a department which ultimately, Ms Coffey is in charge of,” he said.

“We should have had those licences renewed in 2018, but we have been able to carry on irrigation under a limited extension of licence validity (LEV).”

Mr Papworth said the delay in renewal of his abstraction was holding up his business plans.

“I can’t invest in my business as I have not got any firm idea I will have access to water in the future,” he explained.

Norfolk farmers also told Ms Coffey it was essential that she intervenes to avoid the loss of choice of plant protection products (PPPs) on the market if the government fails to act now to extend parallel imports.

The Defra minister’s visit comes ahead of a crucial week for farming with prime minister Rishi Sunak due to host a food summit with industry leaders at 10 Downing Street on Tuesday 16 May.

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