Farmers fear summer drought

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NFU says farmers have put contingency plans in place in case of a dry summer, including trading water with one another.

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Farmers have put contingency plans in place amid concerns of a water shortage during the summer months.

It is understood that good growing conditions over the winter and early spring has increased crop yields, potentially meaning a need for more irrigation - controlled amounts of watering - at a time when rainfall is expected to reduce.

This would cause concern "across the board", with high-value fruit and vegetable production, arable farming and livestock farming all being "vulnerable to rainfall and temperature patterns", the National Farmers' Union (NFU) said.

Restrictions

The NFU also said that farmers have already put contingency plans in place in case of a dry summer, including trading water with one another.

In its monthly hydrological summary for March, the National River Flow Archive, which collects UK river flow data, said that groundwater levels were below normal in central and eastern England, most notably in East Anglia.

The report also states the lower levels highlight the need for additional rainfall to prevent pressure on water later in 2019.

As a result of low rainfall in Yorkshire in April, the Environment Agency has put in place a complete stop to abstraction on the River Seven, the River Swale and in Cod Beck.

Paul Hammett, the national water resource specialist at the NFU, told the Press Association that it is unusual for such restrictions to be put in place so early in the year, and that the move is "of concern".

Discussing the challenge that the need for greater irrigation coupled with low rainfall can pose, he said: "It's going to be quite challenging for farmers to manage their available water to make sure they can make it last as long as possible to manage crop needs."

Food production

On the prospect of another long, dry summer like last year, he added: "The British weather is very variable but I think farmers are right to be concerned and trying to put contingency plans in place just in case the worst happens.

"We've found that a high proportion of the farmers that we've spoken to, in terms of irrigated cropping, are increasing their storage, looking carefully at their cropping plans and are looking to trade water with other farmers.

"So we're looking at a number of options to try to limit the risk of water shortage. I think that all farmers will be keeping a close eye on mid-term weather forecasts and reports about water availability."

Mr Hammett said that a recent discussion he has had with the Environment Agency has helped reduce fears about water restrictions being put in place in East Anglia, but added that a general reduction of rainfall this year and in 2018 is of longer-term concern.

He added: "We do seem to be in a long period of consistently below average rainfall, and I guess that we're already thinking about 2020 and what the prospects for water for food production might be like next year.

"The amount of water that we are collecting and is available in the soils is also of potential longer-term concern."

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Henry Clare is a reporter for Press Association.