Freshwater challenges set to tax food producers

British farmers will struggle to meet rising food demands unless smarter tactics are employed to conserve freshwater supplies on arable land.

Competing demands on the freshwater cycle coupled with pressure on finite land resource could see the agricultural sector struggle to meet the food requirements of rising population growth, according to Association of Drainage Authorities chief executive Dr Jean Venables.

Speaking at CIWEM’s annual conference in London yesterday (March 21), Venables said that rising sea levels, drought and flooding were all having a significant effect on irrigation management.

“Agriculture needs a plentiful supply of water … there is a need to look at groundwater levels in arable areas to avoid water logging and keep soil water levels good for root growth,” she told delegates.

Venables called for a “hard look” at demand management when faced with the prospect of increasing drought, and urged for greater respect around water supply conservation.

“We are allowing rainwater to run down into an already overloaded sewer system – why don’t we capture this before it enters the network so we can build up a resource?” she questioned.

Venables also highlighted the UK’s growing reliance on overseas ‘virtual water’ through food imports and said there was a need for greater accountability in tackling embedded water and carbon impacts on a global scale.

“Climate change is going to give us extreme events, I’m in no doubt about that. This will impact on our food production processes around the world,” she added.

Maxine Perella

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