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New Defra “Trickle Irrigation” License

Farmers using trickle ( Drip ) irrigation systems will have limits enforced on their water usage for the first time – prompting concerns over the growth potential of East Anglian fruit producers.

Defra ( Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) says about 5,000 significant abstractions are exempt from current licensing rules, creating an “unfair playing field” while 20,000 licensed abstractions must water their crops within strict limits, designed to minimise environmental pressures in times of low rainfall.

So these exemptions are set to end, meaning users of drip irrigation system – which guide water to the roots of plants via precise networks of pipes rather then sprayers – must now apply for authorisations during a two-year window, which started on January 1st.

Government’s Stance

Defra’s response to its consultation on water licensing says: “As a result of competing demands for access to water for abstraction, areas of England and Wales are already experiencing water stress. Increasing demand for water from those outside of the current licensing system is exacerbating this position.

The UK and Welsh governments consider that applying these basic ‘hands off flow’ conditions provides basic protection for rivers during low flows and in drought conditions and places a proportionate responsibility of reducing unsustainable abstraction on abstractors being brought under licensing control

Union’s View

 The National Farmers’ Union (NFU) has raised concerns that the protected and nursery stock sectors could be particularly affected by hands off flow constraints on new trickle irrigation licences.

Following the regulatory change, it also says the government should focus attention on how it can help growers cope with potential shortages of water for irrigation, such as reducing fiscal and regulatory barriers to reservoir construction projects.

It says the government should also consider how it can “best support increased use of rainwater harvesting by farmers and growers”.

Paul Hammett, the NFU’s water resources specialist, said he expects most existing Drip operations will be offered abstraction licences which meet their historic needs, but added: “Nevertheless, new licences could limit potential business growth if they are based on past water use rather than future potential need.”

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