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Why should householders be free to water their lawns while farm crops suffer from drought?

PUBLISHED: 14:00 27 July 2018 | UPDATED: 14:00 27 July 2018

Irrigation on the Elveden Estate. Picture: Ian Burt

Irrigation on the Elveden Estate. Picture: Ian Burt

While East Anglian householders can still water their lawns and flower beds, farmers are rapidly running out of water to grow vital crops – prompting pleas for precious supplies to be used more wisely.

Paul Hammett, water expert from the National Farmers' Union.Paul Hammett, water expert from the National Farmers' Union.

While East Anglian householders can still water their lawns and flower beds, farmers are rapidly running out of water to grow vital crops – prompting pleas for precious supplies to be used more wisely.

Despite the arrival of some desperately-needed rain, the previous weeks of dry weather have left many fruit and vegetable growers nearing their annual abstraction limits and storage reservoirs running low.

But because domestic supplies are still adequate enough for Anglian Water not to enforce a hosepipe ban, people are still able to water their gardens while food crops are suffering.

National Farmers’ Union (NFU) water adviser Paul Hammett, who is based in Newmarket, said farmers could run out of irrigation water within weeks, and are already being forced to ration their dwindling supplies or prioritise them towards the thirstiest vegetables.

“Our growers are swiftly running out of water for fruit and vegetable production as they use up their annual abstraction volumes,” he said.

“Norfolk grows a massive proportion of the national potato, carrot and onion crop, and they need irrigation in conjunction with rainfall.

“The irrigation season would usually last until at least the end of August, but many farmers have just about used up their groundwater allocation and, if they have one, their reservoirs as well. So the situation is getting serious.

“I think that farmers will be conscious that as early as next week they might run out of water and not be able to irrigate their crops on the one hand, but on the other hand Anglian Water has no short-term intention of introducing hosepipe bans.

“This offers the potential in the coming days and weeks that members of the public could be watering their lawns while farmers’ water runs out. Our plea to the public is to please use water wisely for everyone’s sake, including our environment and our farmers.

“The rain forecast for this weekend will be welcome but it won’t have a significant impact on the overall situation. We’re expecting below average rainfall and above average temperatures to continue over the next few weeks.”

Mr Hammett said the NFU has asked Defra and Environment Agency (EA) officials to introduce short-term emergency licensing flexibility during August, such as fast-tracking the trading of groundwater allocations without the consents, tests and investigations usually required.

“We are desperate to find some water to keep these crops alive, and in reasonable quality, until they can be harvested,” he said. “What we need to explore with the Environment Agency is some emergency long-term flexibility to allow farmers to quickly and easily trade available water.

“The EA’s duty is to protect the environment and we are searching for ways in which farmers can be helped out of this predicament while doing that.”

ANGLIAN WATER’S MESSAGE

Anglian Water supported the farming industry’s calls for people to stop unnecessary water usage in their homes and gardens.

The company has issued a range of water-saving advice during the dry summer, including to “learn to love your brown lawn” until the rain returns to revitalise it, and to only water plants late at night when the water is less likely to evaporate.

And it advises anyone who has already filled a paddling pool not to empty it, but instead use a cover or gentle sterilising tablets which could keep its contents fresh for days, after which it could be used to wash the car or water flower beds.

Regan Harris, of Anglian Water, said: “We absolutely support this message. Although our reservoirs are fine we still want people to save water.

“We all have to share this precious resource with businesses like agriculture, which is hugely important for our local economy, as well as thinking of the needs of the environment. Obviously our farmers need water for their crops and we do the best we can to balance all these needs.”

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