Rally call to farmers

East Anglia's farmers are best placed to help manage the water supply to feed the nation as climate change brings the threat of shortages.That message comes today from Environment Agency chairman Lord Smith - the former Labour culture secretary Chris Smith - as he addresses delegates at the National Farmers' Union's annual conference.

East Anglia's farmers are best placed to help manage the water supply to feed the nation as climate change brings the threat of shortages.

That message comes today from Environment Agency chairman Lord Smith - the former Labour culture secretary Chris Smith - as he addresses delegates at the National Farmers' Union's annual conference.

Concerns about demand for water have already been high-lighted in the region as large-scale development schemes, such as the proposal to build 4,000 houses at Rackheath, near Norwich, are planned.

Global demand for food looks set to double by 2030, and arable eastern England is already a major producer of key vegetable and food crops from irrigated land. But, with demand for irrigation water poised to rise markedly, the message from Lord Smith is that the farming industry must rise to the climate change challenge.

“Farming can also help us to manage water supply. This will be essential, as we predict demand for irrigation will increase by 25pc over the next 10 years,” he will tell 850 delegates on the final day of the Birmingham confer-ence.

As climate change results in wetter winters and longer, hotter and drier summers, more investment will be needed to “harvest” surplus winter water to irrigate crops such as onions, carrots and parsnips.

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Lord Smith will praise the region's farmers for taking a lead with innovative schemes to make the best use of an increasingly scarce resource. But he will warn: “We will need to get better at storing water in winter to use in the summer.”

Lord Smith has already praised groups of farmers in East Anglia who have co-operated to abstract water for irrigation. And he has noted that the East of England Development Agency has provided grant aid for some irrigation projects.