NFU meets Defra to discuss trickle irrigation

An NFU delegation from the key intensive horticultural areas in England met with Defra officials within days of the launch of a new consultation on abstraction licensing.

A Defra consultation ‘Changes to water abstraction licensing exemptions’, was published on 15 January. The deadline for responses is 8 April.

David Long, Kent soft and top fruit grower and a member of the NFU Horticulture Board said that to continue to flourish, growers need secure access to water to grow fruit, and labour to harvest it.

Paul Hammett, NFU water resources specialist, said that growers at the Defra meeting were promised a ‘light touch and risk based approach’ to the future licensing of trickle irrigation. Arguably the most contentious of the Defra proposals is that the Environment Agency will have powers to apply environmental constraints to protect the environment by applying abstraction restrictions at low flows or during drought conditions.

Marion Regan who represents the soft fruit sector at AHDB Horticulture pointed to the recent shift to the use of coir-type substrates which have little or no water holding capacity: “Modern growing methods mean that water shortages cannot be tolerated, even over short periods of time. Restrictions in water availability would have a major impact on crop growth and business profitability and so provision must be made to accommodate protected crop production in the new licensing regime”, she said.

Photo Credit: East Malling Trust

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