UK food supply at risk due to severe water shortages

Farmers in England are facing increasing challenges to meet the demands of a growing population due to rising water scarcity fuelled by climate change, according to a report from the Committee on Climate Change (CCC).

The Government advisors warn that much of the cropland in England is located in areas where water resources are already over-stretched and if current trends continue, farmers could face a water shortfall of 115 billion litres a year, which is almost half of the 240 billion litres currently used for crop production in the country.

In addition, the report warns that current farming practices may be depleting the productive capacity of some of the country’s richest soils, such as the East Anglian Fens, where recent estimates suggest fertile peat topsoil could largely disappear within a few decades.

The CCC has therefore called on the Government to reform abstraction policy to ensure that the price of water reflects its scarcity. The Committee claims this will incentivise improved irrigation efficiency and investment in on-farm storage, and contribute to ensuring sufficient water.

The report, ‘Managing the land in a changing climate’, also highlights the need for realigned costal defences in undeveloped locations to help reduce the risk of coastal flooding due to climate change.

According to the CCC, the spending requirement for coastal defence is set to rise to £200m each year by 2030, a 60% increase on current spending levels.

To reduce these costs, the committee recommends setting the defence line back from the coastline in selected locations, known as a process known called “managed realignment”.

CCC chair of the adaptation sub-committee Lord Krebs said: “Our analysis shows we are putting future agricultural production at risk, jeopardising coastal habitats that provide vital flood defences, squeezing wildlife habitats and threatening billions of pounds worth of carbon stored in our peatlands.”

Krebs added: “There is an important opportunity for the UK as a food producer in a world subject to climate change. However, this is at risk under current farming practices. The Government should act now to develop and implement policies to ensure that we make the right land use choices to ensure we are resilient to climate change.”

Conor McGlone

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