Thursday, 19 August 2010

UK farmers urged to prepare for water shortages

UK farmers face reduced productivity and bigger water bills in future unless they prepare for droughts by reducing water requirements and harnessing rain and grey water sources more.

That is the message from agricultural and environmental consultancy ADAS, which has warned that farmers' productivity and profitability could be curbed if they do not start implementing measures to reduce (piped) water consumption.

The warning comes as some areas of the UK experience the driest summer in decades. The North West has experienced its driest five months since 1929.

Ruth Kendal, farm resource management consultant at ADAS, said the dry spell could be a taste of things to come when the UK is hit by longer, drier summers caused by climate change.

She said: "Many reservoirs around the country are approaching record low levels and we know that water sources in major food producing regions like the south and the east are dangerously over-abstracted – there is a real danger that farmers in some areas could find water is a limited and more expensive commodity within the next decade."

According to the World Wide Fund for Nature, meat and crop production account for 73 per cent of the UK's water footprint.

Ruth added: "Farmers will need to develop a habit for saving water and the first step is to understand how much water is used in the first place – a business water audit for example will create a full picture of usage and will point out where savings can be made."

She said eliminating leaks, using more efficient practices like irrigation scheduling, or by reusing waste water from one process in another were just some of the ways water could go further.

Mains water costs around £1.10-£1.20, meaning it is already a significant overhead for farmers and one that is expected to rise steadily in future.

"Piped water has a direct impact on farm profitability and many farmers could save in the long term and prepare for the future by harnessing alternative sources for operations that do not require drinking quality water.

"Practices like rainwater harvesting, harnessing grey water sources and sinking boreholes that do not affect the local environmental balance will not just be desirable, they could become crucial for sustaining farm profits," she concluded.

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