Farmers’ irrigation prospects rated ‘moderate to good’ after dry April

NFU water expert Paul Hammett says the dry April has affected many farms, but widespread heavy winte

NFU water expert Paul Hammett says the dry April has affected many farms, but widespread heavy winter rainfall should ensure water availability for irrigation. Picture: Sarah Lucy Brown - Credit: Archant

While many farmers have felt the effects of a dry April, irrigation prospects across East Anglia remain “moderate to good” for this summer according to the latest environmental assessments.

The Environment Agency’s revised report estimates the overall summer prospects for water availability for spray irrigation, taking account of the lack of rainfall during April.

For Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex the status ranges from “moderate” – meaning water levels are low, so some controls on abstraction are possible by midsummer if the weather is hot and dry – to “moderate to good”, with good meaning that water levels are average or above average and supplies are expected to be safe.

Paul Hammett, water specialist for the National Farmers’ Union (NFU), said: “Many farmers have felt the effects of a dry April and the irrigation season has started early for some.

“Fortunately, as a result of widespread heavy winter rainfall which was a problem for many farms, reservoirs are full and there is generally good water availability from both groundwater and surface water sources.

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“Farmers are closely following predictions of possible hot, dry spells in the weeks ahead and what they could mean for water availability as the irrigation season builds.”

The Environment Agency report says the latest three month Met Office forecast for May suggests that “below-average rainfall is moderately more likely than above-average precipitation”. For May to July as a whole, the forecast is “below-average rainfall is moderately more likely than above-average precipitation” and “above-average temperatures are more likely than below-average temperatures for this three month period”.

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The NFU encourages all water abstractors to review their licences to ensure they can meet their needs for the season ahead. For example, Mr Hammett said there have already been cases where growers have needed to seek licences changes to allow them to start irrigating earlier than the start date stipulated on their licences.

Licence changes take time to process and abstractors needing to “fine tune” their licences should contact their Environment Agency area office without delay, he said.

The NFU also recommends that abstractors monitor the Environment Agency’s monthly water situation reports.

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