The NFU has launched a new report calling for urgent action to bring the nation’s water infrastructure up to date to better cope with extreme weather events, such as flooding to drought, urging the government, water companies and farmers to properly invest in water management as a critical response to climate change.
The report sets out why a long-term, collaborative approach is needed, and how the NFU is calling for farmers and land managers to be part of the solution and take on-farm action to help achieve these goals.
It demonstrated that significant investment in water infrastructure is crucial to protect existing farmland and food production during extreme weather events, increase our food security, and help deliver the NFU’s ambition for farming to be net zero by 2040.
With 57% of farmers reporting they have experienced extreme weather conditions, such as flooding or drought, in the past 10 years, the NFU said that the creation of a multi-sector integrated water management strategy would help secure a fair share of water for agriculture and establish the agri-food sector as an essential user of water.
“We saw last week the impact of Storm Christoph leaving hundreds of acres of productive farmland under water,” said NFU Deputy President Stuart Roberts. “As the entire nation continues to deal with more volatile weather, now is the time to look at the bigger picture, as these extremes are impacting British farming’s ability to produce food.
Mr Roberts urged to industry to think long-term instead of simply reacting every time a severe storm or a spell of hot, dry weather hits: “Cooperation and collaboration between farmers, government and water companies is vital in our response to managing flooding and drought risk, to protect productive farmland and ensure farmers are getting their fair share of water.
He said that significant investment in our water infrastructure, which upgrades ageing flood defences, drainage and waterways, will be critical and that the UK should look at ways collecting and storing water when some parts have too little and others too much: “This could enable farmers to grow more fresh fruit, vegetables, flowers, or other crops here in Britain, in addition to farming smarter to bring down our emissions and help achieve our net zero ambition by 2040.”
There are, he said, already examples of farmers adapting their businesses to make them more resilient to extreme weather by developing on-farm rainwater harvesting systems and using precision irrigation, but that these could do much more with continued support and the tools to do so: “Being able to access funding to build more on-farm reservoirs and to invest in new irrigation equipment would help alleviate flooding and secure more water.
Mr Roberts added that the series of recent floods and droughts has highlighted the vulnerability of the entire country to extreme weather and climate change, from farmland to our towns and cities and that a serious commitment by government, water companies and from farmers to upgrade and invest in our water infrastructure is crucial and will have benefits for everyone.