‘Think farming to fight the drought’

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A FARMERS’ leader has urged the Government to ‘think farming’ across its policies to ease the effects of water shortages.

National Farmers’ Union president Peter Kendall, speaking on a visit to hear what East Anglian farmers had to say about water shortages, said farmers were worried about managing water supplies and what restrictions they could face.

While praising the way the Environment Agency has been holding meetings on the drought situation, he said: “Government must be thinking farming across the whole spectrum of policies.”

One example he gave at Euston Estate on Tuesday was that changes in the tax system meant farmers could no longer offset building costs against tax and that included reservoirs.

Euston’s estate manager Andrew Blenkiron said: “We have spent £1.5 million on water infrastructure and moving it around over the past few years. We would be prepared to make more investment but barriers are put in the way, not just tax relief but the planning system, which is making it more expensive.”

Mr Blenkiron also backed the NFU’s call for greater flexibility on water extraction by farmers. They are hopeful the agency will extend the deadline for topping up reservoirs from rivers beyond the end of March but want long term change.

Paul Hammett, the NFU’s East Anglian policy adviser, said: ”We’re asking the Environment Agency to go from dates to actual flow in the rivers. We’re impressing on the agency that their local officers need the authority to be able to react quickly to farmers’ needs.”

Mr Kendall said farmers were not allowed to extract from rivers in summer so when last August was ‘incredibly wet’, with river flows high, they could not top up reservoirs.

Mr Blenkiron said technology could help, like putting the agency’s river flow gauges readings online or using pumps that started filling reservoirs automatically when flows reached a certain level.