This latest spell of hot weather can be very welcome to UK farmers, offering an opportunity to harvest in peak conditions, but the increasing number of long dry summers bring obvious problems. There is far more to crop irrigation than just turning on the tap. There are many complex rules and regulations controlling the commercial use of water and the abstraction of water from our waterways. Of course, there are also many stakeholders interested in ensuring that these rules and regulations work fairly for everyone, giving access to available water when needed, alongside protecting our fragile natural environment.
Wheatley recently met with representatives of the National Farmer’s Union (NFU) to find out more about the challenges farmers face accessing water through existing mechanisms for the licencing of water abstraction and the sharing of natural resources. What is obvious is that the need for farmers to be able to trade water is immediate and critical to both livelihoods and our food supply.
There are some initiatives underway to increase farmers’ access to water and to make licencing rules more flexible to simultaneously balance demand and environmental concerns. The Environment Agency (EA) are currently reviewing licencing rules and there are other initiatives in place to help address the problem, such as the NFU’s own Water Bank. The Water Bank allows farmers to advertise the availability of or need for water capacity, to facilitate collaboration between neighbouring farms. The concept came about as a result of the 2018 heatwave, which left many farms short of water at a critical stage of production for both crops and livestock. The idea works rather like dating for demand and supply, but it doesn’t factor in licencing rules and doesn’t facilitate the EA approval necessary for the trade to take place.
There is much more that could be done though, as our finite water resource means this problem is only going to get bigger. This is why Wheatley are running an “Innovation Dash” at the jointly hosted Anglian Water and Essex and Suffolk Water Innovate East 2019 festival to be held at Trinity Park Ipswich between 10th and 12th of September 2019.
The day will explore scenarios in which trade can be improved, mapping the stakeholders who would benefit, the data necessary to make informed decisions and the processes needed to meet licence requirements.
The event is free to attend and we are encouraging stakeholders from as many different industry sectors as possible to join us. This is not just for water companies and farmers, environmental groups and representatives of industry are also encouraged to get involved. You can register for the conference here and select to join in Wheatley’s “Innovation Dash” on Wednesday 11th September, by selecting the options in the online form.