Worrying time for farmers forced to use drought winter storage | Science and technology news


David Exwood is happy with his oat crop. Like other crops, they benefited from rain in the early part of the year, and then the heat wave ripened the crops and dried them out before harvest.

But it’s still a troubled time. Not only because the combine harvester poses a risk of sparks and fire on stony ground.

He also raises beef and right now, when there is no green grass to eat, he has to feed them what he has stored for the winter.

Impacts like these can affect food prices. And it’s not just cattle. Other crops like potatoes, carrots, onions, and sugar beets are thirsty and sensitive to drought.

Yields from these are expected to be 10% to 50% lower than in a typical year.

David Exwood says there is enough water in Britain to avoid a crisis

It’s not yet clear whether this year’s harvest will lead to higher food prices – that depends largely on how wet the winter is. But it’s a big concern with high inflation and a looming one Cost of Living Crisis.

Mr Exwood, who is also vice president of the National Farmers Union, argues that the water scarcity challenge is not new.

But successive governments have failed to take action to encourage farmers to store more water on their farms and better coordinate action between their sector, water companies and the Environment Agency.

“We have enough water in this country,” says Mr. Exwood. “We just have to invest in the infrastructure so that it’s in the right place at the right time.”

One tension that arises with every drought is the restrictions that the Environment Agency places on farmers to protect river and wetland habitats during the drought.

You can see their frustration, some rivers, especially limestone streams fed by aquifers, still have a lot of water in them.

However, these are some of the most vulnerable to damage from low water levels, which concentrate pollution and lead to temperature increases, both of which can be deadly to aquatic life.

Conservationists say taking earlier action to reduce everyone’s consumption in dry weather would be an easy first step. But the only long-term solution, they say, is restoring more wetland, whether it’s peat bogs, swamps and reed beds, or flood plains.

“About 90% of these have disappeared in the last 100 years,” says Ali Morse, Wildlife Trusts water policy manager.

“We have to make room for this water, we’re going to see these conditions increasingly and we’re going to see crop failures if we don’t take these kinds of actions.”

The message isn’t new – but never seems to have been used on farms or in the surrounding countryside. Restoring wetlands to reduce flooding and improve drought resilience is already part of the government’s landmark environmental bill.

But it has already been criticized for lacking in detail and lacking clear policy objectives for enforcing change.

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