Farmers need to build more reservoirs and water storage facilities to protect themselves from future droughts, according to the Environment Agency.
The agency has published a report, Drought Prospects, which was commissioned by DEFRA in response to the recent widespread drought across eastern England.
The report shows that a dry winter could lead to significant problems in drought-hit areas next year and urges action to minimise the impacts.
It says farmers and businesses need to act now to consider how to meet their future water needs.
Farmers could become more drought resilient by constructing reservoirs, says the report.
“Those farmers who do not have a winter storage reservoir should investigate whether building one is feasible and possible sources of financial support.”
Farmers also need to work together to develop solutions to ensure current supplies last as long as possible, the report recommends.
“This could include the continuation of ‘water cooperatives’ to share water and applying voluntary restrictions when required to avoid formal measures. “
NFU chief environment adviser Diane Mitchell said the report highlighted some important issues around the need for long-term farmer resilience when facing drought conditions.
“In many cases farmers and growers are already taking action to minimise the impacts. Farmers and growers producing under the Red Tractor Farm Assurance scheme have to carefully consider their water usage and efficiency and already plan how much water they use in irrigation and where to use it,” she said.
However, the report did not address how farmers could cope with another sustained dry period in the short term if they did not already have facilities in place, she said.
“Building reservoirs and water storage facilities large enough to make a difference will take months or years, so a strategy to combat this in the short term is absolutely vital to British agriculture.
“In addition, to help encourage further activity we need greater flexibility on the threshold for designation of a ‘large reservoir’. The additional regulatory requirements are currently putting barriers in the way of investment in longer-term storage. There also needs to be a continued funding stream for farmers looking to implement this.”