NFU calls for urgent action on integrated water management to secure UK food production

The National Farmers Union (NFU) is calling for urgent action and investment to bring the UK’s water infrastructure up to date to better cope with extreme weather events – from flooding to drought.

The NFU Integrated Water Management report sets out why a long-term, collaborative approach is needed – the NFU is calling for farmers and land managers to be part of the solution.

It urges government, water companies and farmers to properly invest in water management as a critical response to climate change.

The report sets out why a long-term, collaborative approach is needed and points out that farmers manage 70% of England’s land – the NFU is calling for farmers and land managers to be part of the solution.

The report says that a fair share of water must be secured for agriculture and horticulture – for food production and animal welfare – establishing the agri-food sector as an essential user of water, with the same status as the public drinking water supply.

While farmers use less than 2% of the total water abstracted in the UK, most farmers rely on rivers and boreholes for water in the drier areas of the country at times of the year when water resources are under greatest pressure. 

Significant investment crucial to protect existing farmland and food production

Significant investment in water infrastructure is crucial to protect existing farmland and food production during extreme weather events, according to the NFU – 57% of farmers say they have experienced extreme weather conditions, such as flooding or drought, in the past 10 years.

Introducing the report, NFU Deputy President Stuart Roberts said:

“We need to think long-term instead of reacting every time we’re hit by a severe storm or a spell of hot, dry weather. Cooperation and collaboration between farmers, government and water companies is vital in our response to managing flooding and drought risk, to protect productive farmland and ensure farmers are getting their fair share of water.

“Critical to this will be significant investment in our water infrastructure – an ambitious upgrade of ageing flood defences, drainage and waterways.”

“The series of recent floods and droughts has highlighted the vulnerability of the entire country to extreme weather and climate change, from farmland to our towns and cities.”

“A serious commitment by government, water companies and from farmers to upgrade and invest in our water infrastructure will have benefits for everyone.”

According to the NFU, British farmers and growers can normally rely on ‘green’ water (rainfall) for growing crops such as grass and cereals. Growers of fruit and vegetables rely more on ‘blue’ water (abstracted from boreholes and river sources) as well as ‘green’ water. However, as rainfall becomes more erratic, crop production has increasingly relied on abstracted sources of water, but that too is now becoming less reliable. ‘Grey’ (reused) water is not of drinking water quality and is under-utilised in agriculture. The NFU wants an integrated water management strategy to deliver optimal use of all three kinds of water across the agricultural sector. 

UK fruit and vegetable consumption – imported produce accounts for 75% of associated water use

The report also points out that currently around three-quarters of the water used to grow the fresh fruit and vegetables eaten in the UK comes from countries with greater water challenges than our own. The NFU is warning that for UK farmers and growers to rise to the challenge of growing more fruit and vegetables and increase domestic food production, they will need secure access to water supplies.  Stuart Roberts commented:

“But the pressures faced by farmers and growers in managing ‘too much’ and ‘not enough’ water are likely to become so great that they will not always be solved at the farm level. Cooperation and collaboration within the farming community, and with other sectors such as water companies, will be vital in our response to managing extremes and in improving the quality of our water.”   Click here to read more

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