Norfolk farmers cut food miles with irrigation scheme

A Norfolk potato grower's enthusiasm for lower food miles has inspired a major irrigation project.

Farmer Ian Mason has taken delivery of a dozen large hose reels to bring his vision to reality.

He will use the equipment to irrigate potatoes being grown for the first time on light land across three farming enterprises in west Norfolk.

Irrigation specialist Tony Freezer, of Swaffham, designed the scheme, which will provide water to more than 2,000ha (5,000 acres) cropped on the Gayton estate, Westacre Farms, and Sarah Kerkham, of CE Cross & Son, of Great Barn Farm, Gayton Thorpe.

'It's the largest single project I've ever been involved with,' said Mr Freezer. 'We have a few larger farm irrigation schemes in the area but they've been built up over the years; it's unusual to have something of this scale installed in one go.'

Heronhill Water was formed by the three enterprises, which received grant aid from the East of England Development Agency.

It involved building two new reservoirs of 80 million and 100 million gallons capacity and 47km of underground ring mains. These will deliver water to a dozen Bauer Rainstar E51 irrigation reels.

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'It's the culmination of a project that was just an idea two years ago and is now getting closer to reality by the day,' said Mr Mason.

'We'll grow potatoes on land that hasn't been able to grow the crop before, ready to supply outlets just a few miles up the road.'

Ian Mason Contractors grows 600ha (1,480 acres) of potatoes on rented land in the area and this year around half of that will be planted in fields serviced by the irrigation scheme.

The main outlets are Kettle Foods at Bowthorpe, Norwich, and processor Lamb Weston at Wisbech. A smaller percentage is sold through retail packer Manor Fresh at Spalding.

Mr Mason, said: 'We weighed up the merits of the different makes of reel we run now – the Bauer equipment got a unanimous vote.

'It's strong, straight-forward and easy to move between runs, and the service we get from Tony Freezer is first class.'

The Rainstar E51 is the second biggest irrigation reel in Bauer's flagship range and is especially well-suited to potatoes because of the high tractive force its water turbine drive achieves.

Tandem axle wheel equipment with flotation tyres was added to the standard build to ensure stability during moves and minimise impact on the soil – each reel weighs 10 tonnes when full of water.

Also, the rain gun has a variable angle feature to lower its trajectory on windy days and so combat drift.

Once the required application rate has been set, the Ecostar 4000S management computer, powered by battery with solar panels, reel-in speeds are automatically regulated to achieve accurate application rates and to compensate for any fluctuation in water pressure.

'The biggest technical challenge in designing the scheme was the complex hydraulic flow calculations for the pumping systems to transport water over such a large area and cope with up to 65m field elevations,' said Mr Freezer.

A new 20-page guide to reservoir design has been published by the Suffolk Heaths and Coastal Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty –