NFU calls for long-term water security on farms
The NFU is urging farmers to build resilience into future water availability on farms so that they are in a better position to face the next drought.
Following two consecutive dry winters in 2010/11 and 2011/12 that prevented many farmers from filling their reservoirs, discussions between the NFU and Environment Agency resulted in the adoption of a 'flexible approach' to licensing to improve water availability.
This allowed many farmers to fill reservoirs when river flows permitted, irrespective of the calendar date or the conditions on the licence.
The NFU's national water resource specialist, Paul Hammett, says important lessons were learned during the drought.
"When the chips were down farmers worked closely with the agency and other users such as the public water companies to better understand local supply and demand needs," he said.
"The decision to waive the rules by allowing farmers to operate outside the conditions of their licences was a huge step forward in building trust and in managing limited water resources."
In particular, the NFU recommends that farmers review their abstraction licences now, well before the start of the next irrigation season.
"It's great that the agency helped farmers out during last year's unforeseen emergency but we all need to think of ways to improve water security on farms in the longer term" said Hammett.
"Many farmers would benefit from a discussion about formalising last year's temporary arrangements to reduce future uncertainty. Simple changes like extending the abstraction dates on licences might be a small matter of paperwork now but could have a big impact on the ability to grow crops in future years."