The CLA says that changes to the water abstraction regime, currently under consultation, could put food production at risk as Government proposes to reallocate some abstraction licences from agriculture to domestic, industrial and environmental uses.
While the CLA accepts that the Environment Agency is right to consider how the water licences in a catchment are allocated, it points out that only around one percent of total licensed water abstractions is used to irrigate crops. It is also proposed that trickle and drip irrigation systems required by fruit growers will also be brought into the new regulations.
The Environment Agency is concerned that some people are not abstracting the full amount that they are licensed for, and is looking to reallocate this ‘spare’ capacity to others. Yet, not only are licences a tangible asset to a business, flexibility is paramount as rainfall is not constant year on year. Losing this flexibility will threaten the economic viability of farms and land based enterprises.
CLA Midlands rural adviser Donna Tavernor suggests that ring-fencing abstraction permissions for agriculture could be one option. She said: “If farmers lose their existing right to water, they cannot guarantee the quantity and quality of food that retailers and consumers demand and agricultural businesses could well be priced out of the market by other sectors.
“When licence renewals are being considered, holders of unused volumes must be allowed the opportunity to demonstrate their strategic need for the water before a decision is made about its reallocation.
“If Government is truly concerned about food security then it must ensure sufficient, guaranteed access to water for the region’s farmers.”
The CLA is encouraging its members and those with an interest to respond to the consultation, which closes on 28 March. Responses can be filed online at https://consult.defra.gov.uk/water/abstraction-reform/ or by calling 0207 238 5188.
The CLA is also holding two meetings with its Chief Land Use Policy Adviser Damien Testa who is co-ordination the association’s consultation response. These are taking place on 19 March 2014 at the Mytton & Mermaid, Atcham, Shrewsbury, at 10am and Ledbury Rugby Club at 2pm. Anyone interested in attending, or who would like to discuss the issue should contact Donna Tavernor at the CLA Midlands regional office on 01785 337010 or email firstname.lastname@example.org