Biggest farming irrigation shake-up in 50 years could be on its way

PUBLISHED: 11:37 10 January 2014 | UPDATED: 11:38 10 January 2014

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The biggest shake-up in the way water is abstracted from rivers and groundwater to grow food in 50 years could be on its way.

The Government has launched a three-month consultation on proposals to modernise the abstraction licensing system, which governs the way water is taken from rivers and groundwater.

Fenland farmers are being urged to have their say at an National Farmers Union organised meeting taking place at Bedford Hall, Thorney, on Tuesday January 28.

More than a third of England’s field-scale vegetables and about a quarter of England’s potatoes are grown in the Fens.

Fenland farmer Marc Heading, who is chairing the meeting, said: “Access to water is vital for growing these high-value crops.

“Without this water, not only would the crops fail but there would be job losses and the local economy would also suffer.”

NFU national water resources specialist Paul Hammett says a fairer system needs to be introduced to protect Fenland’s rural economy.

He said: “The Government wants the public to buy more British fruit and vegetables but farmers can only meet that demand if they have secure access to water.

“Ministers now need to match their words with action to deliver a fairer system - one that treats all water users equally and which makes that link between food security and water security.

“The new abstraction licensing system is at least 10 years away but we need to spend time and effort now, shaping a system that will suit the long-term water use on farms and protect this vital part of Fenland’s rural economy.”

The Thorney meeting is one of six taking place across the East of England.

As well as obtaining views on Defra’s abstraction reform consultation, the meetings will consider the immediate pressures facing irrigators.

There will be speakers from the NFU, irrigation experts, the Environment Agency and local farmers.

Booking is essential and farmers can find out more by calling 01638 672100 or by speaking to their local NFU group office.

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