As you know, last week the NFU called an Agricultural Drought Summit in London to highlight the impact of dry weather on British farmers and growers. NFU president Minette Batters highlighted how the summit was about “Team Agriculture”, and that includes Defra and the Environment Agency, coming together to recognise the emerging risks arising from the current weather.
NFU South East land use adviser Tom Ormesher reports: "Across the South East, NFU members are experiencing all manner of headaches. For example, Kent growers have reported a near doubling of the water they need to irrigate apples and lettuces, which is drawing reservoirs down to critical levels ahead of time. For livestock farmers, there are major concerns over the lack of grass growth for hay and the failure of maize crops. This means there will be critical shortages of feed for livestock going into the autumn and winter.
"The outcomes of the Summit are welcome - agreement for emergency flexibility around water abstraction, support for fodder and straw transport and the speeding up of payments owed to farmers. Indeed, as soon as the Summit concluded, here at NFU South East I received phone calls from Environment Agency (EA) staff who were poised to begin work on the one-off flexible arrangements that are now being offered.
"The EA is currently offering a fast track change or local trade on existing licences. On a case by case basis, the EA may also “relax enforcement action if additional emergency abstraction is temporarily required outside of licence conditions”. This is by no means a blank cheque and farms will have to take account of any risks to the environment or of other water users, but it certainly offers a welcome opportunity for those in difficult situations.
"In the South East, the NFU is also working closely with water companies in working up some possible options to release more water for farmers in some areas. These include a possible release of water from a number of water company supply points as well as the possible use of wastewater from water treatment facilities. Our conversations so far have highlighted the fact that we need to be very specific about the locations and volumes that our farmers and growers may need, so please get in contact if you think that such as service would benefit you.
"Whilst the Environment Agency has underlined that these flexible arrangements should only be used by farmers who have a real and immediate need for additional water, there are some opportunities emerging that may benefit farms in Kent and Sussex. If you are in a situation where you think you could take advantage of an additional supply, then please contact the NFU South East office t: 01730 711950."
Please see the attached documents for further information about the Environment Agency's current arrangements and a briefing on abstraction licensing and agricultural drought.
EA Dry Weather abstraction briefing 31 July 18
Abstraction licensing and agricultural drought brief July 18