Fight is on for water allocation

In our January report on what can be done to secure water supplies given the concerns over ground and stored water levels in many areas, nursery consultant John Adlam urged growers to get on and request flexibility in their abstraction licences this year in anticipation of a more constrained response from Defra.

He also advocated water trading - a call echoed by UK Irrigation Association chief Melvyn Kay this week, who says growers should form abstractor groups as a mechanism for ensuring greater water security (see Grower, p28).

But while rightly urging growers to do all they can to conserve water and improve efficiency, both also point to the urgent need to get some basic facts and figures across to decision-makers about the industry's use of water and the dire consequence of further restrictions.

As Kay pointed out at the Irrigation Day at East Malling Research, the catastrophic impact in economic and social terms of withdrawing irrigation in a key horticultural heartland needs to be spelled out. His example is Suffolk, where 90 per cent of agricultural output is irrigated fruit and vegetables. Switching that to cereals would mean not only a slump in annual value from £51m to £11m, but in the local employment contribution from £13m to £1.7m.

Then there is the economic impact on ornamental growers and garden centres, which in 2006 saw 20 per cent of their business wiped out following the unphased introduction of customer hosepipe bans in the South East.

Armed with such data, growers whom Key describes as currently "at the bottom of the heap" when it comes to water allocation, might just have a better chance of being heard.

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