The NFU welcomed Environment Agency Board members and directors to a Cambridgeshire farm last week for a discussion about the importance of water to field vegetable production.
With important decisions still to be taken by the Environment Agency on how it will ‘renew’ time limited groundwater abstraction licences in a way that meets the needs of the EU Water Framework Directive, the NFU was pleased to meet the Environment Agency’s national board and directors on farm last week to discuss ‘water for food’.
Host farmer Nick Wright and farm manager James Thorp welcomed the Environment Agency delegation to Badlingham Manor Farm near Chippenham in Cambridgeshire, just as the potato and onion harvest was moving into full swing.
James Thorp said that the installation of a 40 million gallon farm reservoir four years ago had been a crucial development, helping to ensure timely application of water for consistency of yield and quality of vegetable crops.
He said that the abstraction licensing process to take high flow water from the river running past the farm had been onerous, with ‘hands off flow’ conditions being based on flow monitoring for four years before the project was authorised. However, he complimented the Agency’s approach in balancing the needs of the environment with local food production.
The theme of partnership was continued by Lindsay Hargreaves, chairman of the local Lark Abstractors Group. He outlined the informal arrangements that operated locally in dry years, when groundwater users entered in to self-imposed ‘voluntary restrictions’ when low aquifer levels indicated poor irrigation prospects for the forthcoming season.
Paul Hammett, NFU national water resources specialist, said that local farmers were split 50-50 in their use of surface water and groundwater, but the common issue for them all was their need to access their full licensed volumes to meet dry year irrigation need.
The farm meeting was the latest opportunity for the NFU and the Environment Agency to find a pragmatic solution to the future renewal of some ‘time limited licences’ where the Agency is concerned about meeting requirements of the EU Water Framework Directive.
The Agency is concerned that, if farmers with groundwater licences begin to use normally unused ‘headroom’ volumes of water, this may exert further pressure on the aquifer and potentially cause a deterioration of the ecology in local rivers.
Work continues on finding a licensing solution that meets the requirements of the European legislation while allowing farmers to use their ‘peak use’ in dry years.