By MICHAEL POLLITT
, Agricultural editor
Saturday, December 15, 2012
A long-established west Norfolk farm business has invested in a new storage reservoir to irrigate a larger area of potatoes and other thirsty root crops.
Although it has been the wettest summer for almost a century, pressure on water availability in East Anglia and the south east will get even more intense in the next few decades.
Across the eastern half of England, climate change models predict a slight decrease in average annual precipitation over the next 20 to 50 years, but with more winter rainfall and drier summers.
With more demands on natural resources, growers need to plan for the potential impacts of factors such as climate change and reform of the water abstraction licensing regime.
A report by Potato Council and Cranfield University looked at water availability in traditional potato growing areas, such as East Anglia and the Midlands.
One authors, Dr Andre Daccache, said: “It is most likely that we will have lower precipitation in summer and more in winter. But there will be higher variability with a lower level of probability.”
The research warned that by 2050, most potato growers will need to increase irrigation by between 14 and 30pc, however, changing weather patterns may see a slight yield increase of around 5pc.
A Norfolk farming business, Congham Farms, six miles east of King’s Lynn, has invested in a 12 million gallon reservoir. It has about 1,200 acres of crops including wheat, barley, sugar beet, potatoes and oilseed rape. In addition, land is let for growing parsnips.
Michael Mason, who is a director, said: “The farm has held an abstraction license for 24 million gallons of water from a borehole since 2001, but we have been unable to fully utilise this facility due to a lack of pumping capacity, meaning that we couldn’t pump sufficient water to irrigate both parts of the farm simultaneously and enlarge the acreage of potatoes, so it was decided to build a new 12 million gallon reservoir.”
A well-known engineer, Tony Freezer, of Swaffham, helped to deliver a water storage solution to meet the needs of the business. “After initial trial digs were carried out it was discovered that the site had a stable chalk base which was suitable for a lined reservoir across approximately four acres in area.”
“Once the reservoir was finished, a new pumping station was built and the reservoir was filled in October 2011.”
A £250,000 loan to finance the project was made by Barclays. Martin Redfearn, who is the bank’s head of agriculture, said: “As demand for water increases and local weather patterns change, more and more growers will need to ensure they have sufficient access to water. “In some cases this will involve the construction of traditional reservoirs filled from winter surface water, but in others more novel approaches such as filling reservoirs from the underlying groundwater or peak flow harvesting may have to be developed.
“We are able to help finance different types of project. For example, a lined reservoir can cost twice as much to build as a similar sized clay facility, but the latter obviously needs suitable geology,” said Mr Redfearn.
Water is increasingly becoming an issue for the food supply chain and processors, packers and retailers are now assessing and improving the water footprint of their products. Even where farmers have access to sufficient water there may be opportunities to improve water use efficiency through the use of different application techniques or more modern equipment,” he added.
Investing in water storage, improved irrigation scheduling or more accurate equipment may require an immediate capital investment, but could lead to future savings in terms of fuel, water and abstraction requirements as well as adding value to the land or farm, as the demand for water increases and the competition for licenses increases.