Water for food production needs to be a priority

A portrait photo of farmer Andrew Blenkiron, who is smiling and wearing a green fleece, and is stood in front of a countryside landscape.

Water is a critical part of producing your food. With a greater risk of water scarcity caused by extreme weather, droughts and climate change, the farming industry is increasingly vulnerable to shortages of this most precious resource. Something needs to be done urgently. NFU Suffolk County Chair Andrew Blenkiron shares his thoughts.

Nothing without water

Eastern England, especially here in East Anglia, is the driest region in the country, so our very mild climate means we need access to a lot of water. It’s essential to everything we do as farmers.

Where would we be without it? It’s vital to producing your food as healthily and nutritionally as we can. Whether that’s wheat for your bread, barley for your beer, peas and beans, or apples and pears, or to help grass growth for livestock, we rely on secure, clean supplies of water.

However, our ability to sustain and increase efficient, high quality food production at prices that consumers can afford is being threatened. This is due to the huge increase in competition for water resources we’ve seen in the past few years and will only get worse with a worldwide population expected to increase to over 10 billion by 2050.

The view from Downing Street

Recently, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak held a Food Summit at Downing Street - the culmination of over a year’s worth of work and campaigning by the National Farmers’ Union. Those that attended the Food Summit asked the Prime Minister to convene the whole food supply chain together to discuss the vital measures needed to build resilience and transparency from farm to fork and strengthen our ability to produce food.

That meeting showed the government does at last seem to be understanding the strategic importance of British food and farming. However, with water being a vital ingredient in food production and essential to the economic performance of the agri-food sector, it seems strange that the role of water in farming still isn’t being recognised at the highest level.

From my perspective, we really need to start thinking about the long-term instead of reacting every time we’re hit by a spell of hot, dry weather.

There should be cooperation and better collaboration between farmers, government and water companies to manage drought risk to protect productive farmland and ensure farmers are getting their fair share of water.

Significant investment in water infrastructure is crucial to underwrite our food security and help build resilience into the farming sector. This would provide further opportunities for irrigation equipment, while flexibility within planning regulations would allow for more reservoirs and water storage units to be built on farm.

“We really need to start thinking about the long-term instead of reacting every time we’re hit by a spell of hot, dry weather”

NFU Suffolk County Chair Andrew Blenkiron

Flexible abstraction measures would also allow us to take water when needed during challenging spells of weather.

The future of farming

Let’s look at innovative ways of how we can collect and store water when some parts have too little and others too much. This could enable farmers to grow more fresh fruit, vegetables, or other crops, and enable them to farm smarter to bring down our emissions and help achieve the farming industry’s ambition to be net zero by 2040.

We understand that taking steps to reduce agriculture’s impact on water quality in our rivers is also an essential element of what we do every day of the year. All farmers and growers care passionately about water. It really matters. Not just for producing your food but also for caring for the natural environment in which we live and work. 

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