Water use on farm – abstraction reform

08.11.13 – Water use on farm – abstraction reform

Defra and the Environment Agency joined us for this chat on abstraction reform and water use on farm. The key objectives stated for the reform centred on promoting efficiency, increasing long-term resilience and protecting the environment. It is proposed that a new system for water trading will make it quicker and easier than at present, but a catch 22 situation exists at the moment as without water there can be no trade anyway. There has been a marked interest in farm reservoir development but the threat of Section 57 restrictions is a big constraint for farmers. Unfortunately mains water is too expensive for irrigation purposes. Being able to react to changing weather conditions is the primary focus alongside forward planning – floods happen suddenly while drought is a gradual deterioration.

The discussion held on Thursday 7th November 2013 was a discussion about abstraction reform and water use on farm. It generated a total of 348 tweets on the topic from 65 participants. These included farmers, agri-food businesses, rural advisors, land agents, lawyers, journalists, academics and NFU officeholders, as well as members of the general public.

We’ve had some strange weather in recent years, drought, floods. How have you changed the way you manage water as a result?

  • One of main aims of abstraction reform is to link water taken to water available at any time
  • We’ve got an old redundant ram pump from the early 1900’s Funny how these thing come back into fashion
  • We’ve built a dirty water lagoon with the purpose of irrigating the ground during the summer

How do you plan to change the way you manage water in the future?

  • Key objectives for #AbstractionReform are to promote efficiency, increase long-term resilience and to protect the environment
  • #AbstractionReform will not be implemented until around 2020 giving sufficient time for businesses to adjust
  • Water harvesting here for crop spraying. 1mm of rain collects 500lt I have increased storage to just over 30,000lt
  • Like the idea of a long lead in time for reform to give small businesses time to adjust to change

What is the biggest issue for you now and in the future, around your use of water?

  • We’ve seen more interest in farm reservoir development but lingering deep concern over threat of Section 57 restrictions
  • Liver Fluke, high amounts of rainfall increases snail numbers that harbour fluke, now out of season as well.
  • I farm rainy upland. Collect rainwater for sheep in old bath. In trouble only in ‘barbecue summers’. But then I can make hay
  • Our most pressing issue is that lots of rivers dry up which makes fishing impossible and hundreds others suffer low flows
  • I’d say that for irrigators, the big issue is a secure supply of water in droughts, which may become more frequent
  • Mandatory TARMAC. Deplorable problems off runoff. But the rules demand asphalt

What are your views on water storage? How practical would it be for you to invest in on-farm `water storage?

  • Huge difference in cost between storage for spraying & storage for irrigation
  • Also ability to plan cropping/have water security for full season, not just the next few weeks; appropriate timescale
  • Why is water trading being introduced before reform has been implemented? Won’t this just mean that unused licences get sold?
  • In the last 20 years changes to abstraction licenses have benefitted over 300km or river environment.
  • Trading is possible under current system. New system will make trading water quicker and easier
  • Been able to trade water for 10 yrs but the system doesn’t work well, we need a better system that utilises available water

What would encourage you to build water storage?

  • Would like to design yard to capture all rain water to use for irrigation during dry summer months but cost is main factor
  • We collect almost all rainwater off roofs for cattle drinking water
  • Roof water is easy and already captured, we have large yard and lose that water down the drain

If you have an abstraction licence would you consider trading it with a neighbour, either permanently or temporarily? Or trade just part of your licence? If not why not?

  • Filling reservoirs in high flows rather than specific winter months, are we there already?
  • New system will make trading water quicker and easier – currently it takes up to 3 months
  • Problem with small scale hydro power is the number of licences needed from the EA to ‘process’ the water
  • In the US both quantity trading and quality trading mechanisms has been developed
  • Biggest constraint is who you can trade with, same aquifer or downstream on river, so very limited market. Might that change?
  • There needs to be a massive expansion in winter storage if that regulation results in less abstraction
  • Looked at few water storage projects back in consultancy days – numbers didn’t stack up. Capital allowances would help.
  • Agree with tax capital allowances for reservoir build. Water companies get them, why not farmers?
  • Abstraction has many impacts: concentration of pollution, low oxygen, high temps, low wetted area and more predation

What would make it easier for you to trade a licence with a neighbor?

  • Trading in water is indictment of system created for farmers and exemplifies all that’s wrong. More creative thinking needed
  • Gov prefers Corp Tax reduction rather than capital allowances, but many farms aren’t a Ltd company, so no help!
  • Not sure about ‘a system created by farmers’, don’t forget farmers only abstract 1% of total water
  • Trading is happening now. Trading Catch 22 blocks it. No water No trade. Water available, what’s the point?
  • Removal of seasonality on licences would allow farmers to fill reservoirs at high flows any time of year

If water abstraction licensing system changed, which parts would you want to keep and what would you change?

  • Trade timescale is key for agriculture; 2 weekly basis suggested is too short as need defined by seasons cropping / weather
  • Farmers would like to see an end to section 57 drought restrictions that apply to irrigation and other use. Unfair.
  • Very glad to hear that current licence reliability is proposed to be kept under whichever new system is brought in
  • Tougher / sooner control on water use by public during drought has potential to make massive difference

Do you use Mains water for irrigation? If so Why and how much?

  • We need to improve our food security, so water reform needs to deliver a more secure water supply for farmers to grow that food
  • We know water abstraction is key to many farmers so existing licences will be taken into account in the new system
  • For most farmers mains water is too expensive to use for irrigation
  • Mains water sometimes used as a last resort, but usually too expensive?
  • Some potato growers use mains as back up, have as much as you like, as long as you willing to pay
  • Given farming needs, is it sensible to divert millions of gallons of water to #fracking and risk contamination of water table?

Flood or Drought, what do you predict over the next 10 years will be the more prominent feature of UK Climate Change?

  • Warmer and wetter, ideal for growing grass-but it’s the UK so maybe colder and wetter, rubbish for grass
  • Flood or drought? Both! But flood tends to be sudden event while drought is a gradual deterioration. Forward planning is key
  • Needing to react quickly to changing conditions may well be the key

Simon Haley, Reading Agricultural Consultants, and Alan Spedding, 11 November 2013

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