Replacing overhead irrigation with drip irrigation has paid off for Produce World, according to agronomy director Simon Bowen.
"We are getting the same level of yield and quality with 40 per cent less water - you lose much less in evaporation," he told Grower.
"We grow 300 acres of potatoes ourselves, which is all now drip irrigated. They are less likely to suffer from water stress, so there is less cracking or scab. Maris Piper, for example, needs a lot of tender loving care and with this you get a better pack-out rate."
More difficult varieties such as La Ratte could also be grown, said Bowen. The company has successfully grown these for two years and is selling to Waitrose.
But he admitted: "There is a higher capital cost, although the same system can be used on a range of crops such as carrots, onions and leeks as well as potatoes."
Nor does drip irrigation depend on any new technology, he added. "It's already widely used in drier parts of the world such as Israel, but in Britain we haven't been so concerned about it."
Produce World is able to trial different technologies on its own farms before rolling them out to supplier growers, he explained. "We can then say: 'This is how it works, and this is why it's worth doing.'"
He added: "We are even looking at drip irrigating with a proportion of seawater. Because it is applied below the leaves, you don't scorch them. But it's early days."
A recent NFU survey on farms' water use found:
- 71 per cent use mains water.
- 16 per cent own or have access to a reservoir.
- 18 per cent irrigate their crops.
- 55 per cent are limited on how much water they can abstract.