FARMING organisations have demanded that agriculture be exempt from new government proposals to reduce access to water.

The Country Land and Business Association (CLA) and National Farmers’ Union (NFU) have each warned that unless farmers are given secure access to water, UK food production could be seriously compromised.

Dorothy Fairburn, CLA North regional director, said: “Agriculture represents less than one percent of the total licensed volumes of water, and should be removed from the abstraction regime.

“The Government’s proposals must guarantee food businesses have secure access to water if essential food security is to be maintained.

“A system that restricts the ability to abstract water during very low river flows could harm crops, fruit and vegetables and hinder food production.”

The Government is proposing two key options:

  • Current System Plus would allow people to abstract up to a fixed annual volume of water with daily limits and conditions;
  • The Water Shares option would see the Government decide on the total allocation of water to be abstracted in part of a catchment and divvy up the share accordingly.

The proposals would also automatically revoke unused abstraction licenses, which the CLA claims would cause serious problems for agriculture.

Miss Fairburn said: “Food businesses have strategic reasons as to why licensed volumes of water may not be fully used, for instance excessive rainfall or crop rotation.

“Abstractors must first be given the chance to justify their need for water, and if the decision to revoke a licence is maintained, there should be the option to sell or transfer it.”

Guy Poskitt, Yorkshire grower and NFU horticulture and potatoes board chairman, said it was essential that horticulture has a good, reliable supply of water.

He said: “Any reduction of water would be catastrophic to the industry, resulting in a reduced supply of British produce, job losses and increased imports.

“We will also press Defra to recognise the special circumstances that apply to irrigated cropping. Full volumes of water may only be needed in one dry year in ten, but that does not mean the unused water in the other nine years is spare.”

Mr Poskitt was concerned by some important omissions such as devising solutions to water scarcity during drought.

He said. “It is vital that any new system is designed to increase our water security and ensure that farmers and growers get fair access to water to grow the nation’s food.”