AHDB access to water survey - Why you should participate!

by Tim Mudge

Latest relase from AHDB Horticulture on access to water.

AHDB Horticulture Research Update –
AHDB access to water survey - Why you should participate!


In the public mind, Britain has lots of rain ….far too much. But floods in one place don’t mean there is plenty of water everywhere. For example in February this year rainfall was 187% of the long term average in the North West, but only 88% of the long term average in the East of England. Public perceptions make it harder for irrigation water to have a high priority with Government.

In the south east and several other areas the population is growing, and to maintain environmental standards of water bodies, several changes in licensing will take place. All permanent licences will be converted to time limited permits and ‘head room’ is expected to be removed. The situation could be particularly difficult in future for those businesses which want to expand and use more water.

At the recent UKIA conference a speaker from Spain explained that in his eastern catchment, 80% of total water is used for agriculture/horticulture. Laws regarding governance of water go back 1,000 years. Reservoir capacity can cope with a seven year drought. In Britain, there is no established legal right of agriculture for water, and indeed agriculture is not regarded as an ‘essential user’ by Defra. Our reservoir capacity is tiny in comparison with other countries. The quality of our water bodies, in relation to the Water Framework Directive monitoring, is generally much poorer than in France, Spain, Italy and Denmark. There are several reasons, including our industrial heritage and lack of storage capacity.

AHDB isn’t a lobbying organisation; however we can state the facts. AHDB has a direct line to the industry and to those who want to lobby on behalf of growers and as such we can help generate the impartial data to inform that debate. Defra and the Environment Agency have also said that they lack data on water use by agriculture/horticulture and that they can’t or won’t fund the obtaining of that data. Many organisations would like to know the effect on horticulture of changes in licensed abstraction, but they may not be able to organise or fund the large scale survey necessary. This is why the AHDB (Horticulture) Board made the strategic decision to instigate and promote this piece of research. There have been many reports making reference to water for agriculture, and figures from a few relatively small areas, but there is a major gap at the national level and this is what the AHDB water use survey aims to address.

Horticulture is diverse, so small samples can’t be extrapolated to the whole. The only way to clarify the importance of irrigation water is by a really large number of growers answering the questions, so that all types of horticulture and water availability and parts of the country are represented. One need for a national picture is that some decisions, such as on grants for reservoir construction, are made on a national level.

If you have looked up the figures required beforehand (listed at the top of the survey), completing the survey takes 20-30 minutes. There is a video about the survey and the survey itself on the AHDB website. Please take part so that horticultural water use and issues are properly represented. So far, there has been strong input from potato growers, but not any of the other sectors.

The facts will be clearer and the impact greater if each farm completes the survey, rather than one response per business. This is the decision made by Paul Drewery, farm administration manager of Alan Bartlett and Sons, which covers 20 farms. As Paul says “It’s in our interests”.

AHDB Horticulture continues to fund research to enhance grower business competitiveness and sustainability. If you have research needs that are not being addressed in AHDB Horticulture projects please contact Anne Stone (AHDB Horticulture Research Manager for Field Vegetables) at anne.stone@ahdb.org.uk or on 0247 6478668. Dawn Teverson manages communications for brassicas – you can contact her at dawn.teverson@ahdb.org.uk or on 0247 647 8979.

Dawn M Teverson, Research and Knowledge Transfer Manager, AHDB Horticulture March, 2016.