Agri-Tech conference will discuss competing pressures for water resources

Organic vegetable grower John Taylor putting a soil moisture probe into position. Picture: Ian Burt

Organic vegetable grower John Taylor putting a soil moisture probe into position. Picture: Ian Burt - Credit: Ian Burt

The question of how to manage the increasing demands on East Anglia's finite water resources will be discussed by farmers, academics and business leaders next month.

Jamie Lockhart, farm manager at Honingham Thorpe Farms, with the farm's reservoir. Picture: DENISE B

Jamie Lockhart, farm manager at Honingham Thorpe Farms, with the farm's reservoir. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2014

The event, named 'Producing, processing and packaging: Managing future water needs' will be held at The Boathouse Business Centre in Wisbech on March 9 to explore the need for improved monitoring precision and efficiency of water usage.

It will be hosted by Agri-Tech East's 'Water for Agriculture' special interest group, in partnership with Anglian Water and the Agritech Water Cluster, based at the University of East Anglia.

Andy Brown, head of sustainability at Anglian Water said: 'With growth in the region and a changing climate we know that there will be increasing pressure on water in the future.

'That is why we want to bring sectors together now to discuss the different roles we can all play in successfully meeting this challenge. It is a familiar challenge of trying to do more with less; trying to do it efficiently and trying to be as sustainable as we can be.


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'The event will give us the opportunity to discuss the common risks and challenges together, exchange experience and knowledge but also to explore common solutions for predicting demand, using water efficiently and planning future resources.'

Speakers will include Prof Tim Osborn of the UEA, on how changes in weather and climate will impact water availability, and Martin Collison, agri-food sector lead for Greater Lincolnshire local enterprise partnership (LEP), who will discuss the need for long-term resource planning.

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Inder Poonaji, head of sustainability at Nestlé UK and Ireland, which has processing facilities in the region, will be a keynote speaker at a workshop which is aimed at generating innovative responses.

Jamie Lockhart, farm manager at Honingham Thorpe Farms outside Norwich and incoming chairman of the Broadland Agricultural Water Abstractors Group (BAWAG), will also be attending the workshop. He said farmers should take the lead in improving efficiency and influencing policy.

He said: 'I'm hoping to meet some innovative companies who can bring some fresh ideas on how to manage and monitor water usage and also to get some like-minded farmers in a room to put a new spin on things.'

One company that specialises in modern techniques to grow organic vegetables including carrots, beetroot, swede and onions is Taylorgrown, which rents land on the Houghton estate near Fakenham.

Managing director John Taylor said the business has invested in technology to manage its water-efficiency.

'We use soil moisture probes in the fields, which can tell us the soil moisture deficit for each crop, and we will apply water according to each crop's requirement,' he said. 'These probes feed directly back to our computers so we have real-time information on each crop.

'This season we will also be trialling a 'trickle tape' irrigation system for the first time, on about 40 acres of land. It is a way of applying water directly to the soil without losing it through evaporation and run-off. We are yet to see the results but it should reduce our water requirement quite considerably.

'It could also reduce the disease risk, because we are not wetting the foliage of the plant. If you are applying the water directly to the soil you are not creating that moist, humid environment in the foliage where diseases thrive.

'We are doing these things to avoid wasting water as it is becoming such a valuable commodity. Our customers want to see that we are being innovative and showing some responsibility for the environment. We have an obligation to do our best to not waste this resource.'

For more information, see www.agritech-east.co.uk/events/managing-future-water-needs.

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