The newly competitive water-buying market could lead to savings of up to 20% for growers after new regulations came into place last month. New Forest Growers business development manager Rob Adamson says nurseries can create buying power and reduce water bills by banding together. He is building a buying group of 10-12 growers who use £250,000 of water annually.
"I'm not sure how many people recognise the savings they can make," he points out. The New Forest Growers co-operative already offers discounts on gas and electricity as well as other services such as telecoms thanks to group buying.
Adamson adds: "People I've been speaking to are on fixed contracts and not aware. They don't shop around. It's become a competitive market so like the rest of the energy industry you can swap and change, and we can help."
He says savings will be "marginal" for the first few years at 2-5% "but going forward will be up to 20% 4-to-5 years down the line so it's good to get started now and get on board".
Adamson suggests that the water market might become like other utilities. "We buy as a group, forward purchasing electricity and gas so we have beneficial prices on a daily basis and we buy and sell when we want. It means prices are much more stable," he explains.
In an overseas example of water co-operation, more than 60 Dutch horticultural companies have joined horticultural water purification co-operative "De Vlot". They have signed the agreements and the construction of a purification plant will start in September. It should be operational by the end of 2017. The cost of purifying amounts to EUR1,100 per hectare. The system has been developed by Aqua-Terra Nova, which previously also developed Aqua ReUse.
Meanwhile, water restrictions remain a concern for the industry, despite some rain in recent weeks, because the October-March period was the driest in the UK for more than 20 years. April saw 41% of average rainfall countrywide.
Water UK has updated its stance: "We are not currently expecting to need restrictions but never say never. Recent months have been relatively dry and therefore some water resources levels are lower than normal for this time of year. The Environment Agency and water companies will continue to monitor the situation and work together to minimise any potential impacts to people and the environment should the dry weather continue. We always advise that everyone use water wisely."
The Environment Agency says: "Following a dry winter, some rivers, groundwaters and reservoirs are lower than normal for the time of year." Settled weather is forecast for much of May.
Comment Search for best prices
Nursery consultant John Adlam says: "At present a business can shop around for the best price from various providers of gas and electricity and now they will be able to do the same with water. We anticipate the cost of water will become competitive.
"The law means eligible businesses, charities and public-sector customers are no longer restricted to buying retail water services from their regional water company. Instead, they are now free to choose their water retailer. You can choose to have one retailer for your water supply and another for wastewater services, or just have one for both.
"Licensed retailers now buy wholesale water services - the physical supply of water and the removal of wastewater - from the regional water companies, who continue to supply your water, treat your wastewater and maintain the water and wastewater pipe networks."