Worries that water shortages could affect five billion people by 2050 have prompted calls for farmers and growers to be more innovative in the way they use and share water.
NFU national water resources specialist Paul Hammett said while Government chiefs were understandably concerned about how consumers needed to change their behaviour towards water over the next 25 years, water for use in farming had a much greater – and immediate – impact.
Environment Agency (EA) chairman Sir James Bevan told the EA’s Waterwise Conference on Tuesday (March 19) that climate change would lead to hotter and drier summers, with the amount of water available by 2050 reduced by 10 to 15 per cent.
But Mr Hammett said farmers and growers of irrigated crops were changing their behaviours already.
He said: “I think a more challenging water supply does not mean we need tightened regulation; it means we need smarter regulation and one that makes farmers more innovative in how they use water more collaboratively.
“If there is going to be less water available and if the environment is going to need greater protection from dry weather events, then we are going to have to get much better at making sure there is enough water to grow our food and enough water to meet environmental needs.”
Mr Hammett said it was unlikely levels of rainfall would decline in the future.
But he said that farmers and growers would have to deal with more extreme weather events.
He envisioned a future where farming companies would work more collaboratively with other industries to create water availability across sectors.
“The advice is to collect the field water, store it, then use it where there is not enough water available,” Mr Hammett added.
NFU vice-president Stuart Roberts highlighted a need for better focus on long-term water infrastructure and an uptake of practices, such as drip irrigation, on-farm storage and intelligent water recycling.
A recent small member survey carried out by the NFU found onethird were considering making changes to the type of crops they grew, while half admitted they had invested or were looking to invest in new irrigation equipment to increase efficiency.
One-fifth of respondents said they were looking at additional storage capacity. One-in-six was exploring ways to trade water with their neighbours.