The NFU has been helping members in Nottinghamshire to prepare for their irrigation licence renewal process in 2018 and 2019.
Growers with licences to abstract water from the Sherwood sandstone aquifer have been facing pressure from the Environment Agency to reduce the volume of water they apply for in future.
The Agency has a duty to ensure that licences are sustainable, and they are keen to ensure that future licences permitting the abstraction of water volumes satisfy the ‘no deterioration’ needs of the Water Framework Directive.
This means that in some cases the Agency will seek to claw back some of the unused ‘headroom’ volume in abstraction licences.
Growers rely on annual licensed volumes of water that will satisfy crop needs in dry years. But because the water need of crops is also met by rainfall, annual licensed volumes are not needed in normal years.
The NFU has been working with the Agency for the past two years to find a way for growers to retain their historic water volumes where their need for water can be justified.
The NFU commissioned professional expertise to investigate the environmental impact of abstraction from the Sherwood sandstone. Our evidence showed that groundwater abstraction for irrigation has an insignificant impact on local river flows.
As a result of NFU intervention, the Environment Agency has now agreed to renew licences based on historic volumes where growers can justify those quantities as their ‘dry year need’.
The NFU has worked with the Agency on the production of an agronomic spreadsheet that growers will be invited to complete as part of their licence renewal application.
The spreadsheet will capture field records of crops grown for the past five years, together with projected cropping plans for the next five years. Growers will also input information about their soil type and their agro-climatic zone. Using technical information produced by Cranfield University, the spreadsheet will be used to calculate the dry year water need of the applicant.
The new application process was unveiled at an NFU East Midlands workshop for growers in Worksop this week (15 November).
Paul Hammett, NFU water resources specialist, was pleased that the Environment Agency and NFU had found a practical way forward. "The system will help growers to keep historic water volumes where they can justify their dry year need," he said.
Andy Hammond of T Hammond & Sons, Nottingham, was a member of the NFU group that worked with the Environment Agency to establish the new approach. His licences expire in March 2018, and he has already submitted applications to the Environment Agency for their renewal.
Mr Hammond described the information requested by the Environment Agency as logical and found the cropping spreadsheet to be intuitive and straightforward to complete.
Andy Hammond, of T Hammond & Sons, Nottingham, a member of the NFU group working with the EA on the new initiative
“I am confident that the information provided to the Environment Agency will allow renewal on the same terms as my current licence giving me water security for the next five years,” he said.
“Water is a valuable and vital resource for our vegetable growing business and this renewal process has focused our thoughts on its future use.
"I believe it is important for all abstractors to start to think about their licensing and water use now in preparation for the renewal beyond the one we are now dealing with in 2024.”