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Ensure you inform water reform

Publication Date: 
19 April 2016

Ensure you inform water reform

Jenny Bashford, AHDB Potatoes’ Knowledge Exchange Manager, urges each member of the supply chain to play their role to help inform forthcoming abstraction changes.

At the start of March this year, AHDB launched a critical Water Use Survey ( which is open until late May.

“With policy changes due to be implemented over the next four years, AHDB is concerned that potato and horticulture growers may not have access to sufficient water in some areas in the future to maintain and grow their businesses.

Water management and informing policy

Crop irrigation is the second largest use of water in agriculture (after livestock drinking water) and accounts for 38% of the total volume used (70 million m3). Recent research conducted by the NFU in the Cam and Ely Ouse river catchment area concluded that the financial value of irrigation for potato and vegetable production was £91 million. Their report concluded that time-limited abstraction licences could mean growers scaling back production considerably.

The two largest irrigated areas in 2010 (the latest official figures available) were maincrop potatoes and vegetables for human consumption, with areas of 31.8 thousand hectares and 20.5 thousand hectares respectively (see Figure 1).

“Potatoes are a thirsty crop, sensitive to water shortages and susceptible to drought,” says Jenny.  “Predicted weather fluctuations over the next fifty years include frequent extreme temperatures and increasing drought in a number of important crop producing areas. Furthermore, the European Union’s Water Framework Directive (WFD) will be another driver of change in water management.”

The UK Government is responding to the challenges from the WFD and to changing weather patterns, with a fundamental reform of the UK’s water abstraction management system. Lack of reliable data about water use is hampering industry’s ability to provide evidence to help shape government reforms over the next four years.

Help inform the reform

To generate the evidence required to help shape water reform, we are urging growers of potatoes, field vegetables and protected crops to take part in our water use survey ( Growers who rent land and use irrigation, and land-owners with a licence, should take the survey before the end of May. (1 BASIS point will be awarded for taking part).

The information generated by the survey will demonstrate the potential impact of abstraction reform on businesses and identify the challenges associated with increasing water storage and resilience to drought.

Evidence-based recommendations

Over coming years, growers will inevitably need to manage risk from pressures on water resources and ensure that they make the most of every drop.  Getting the right amount of moisture to the right place at the right time throughout the whole growing season is key for producing high-yielding, quality potato crops.

For some growers, gaining access to adequate supplies of water may become challenging. And for those with limited access to water or trying to minimise their costs, making best use of water will become increasingly important.

Further response urgently needed

We’ve had an encouraging start and have received over 120 response so far from potato businesses alone. But the fact is we simply need every business that abstracts water now or might abstract in the future, to feed into the survey (

Only this way will we address the current lack of reliable data about water use. “We need detailed data that reflects the wide range of crops, business types, geographical locations and ways of obtaining water,” stresses Jenny. “By building as clear an understanding as possible of our water use, this AHDB survey aims to provide a robust evidence base.” 

Access to water is changing. Make sure you are one step ahead

As well as helping provide evidence, this project will lead to a grower guidance document outlining abstraction changes, how to keep abreast of their impacts in different catchments and types of business; and the changes businesses can make to help offset the impacts of proposed reforms. 

For the current growing season

To help growers, AHDB Potatoes has published a comprehensive new publication: ‘Seasonal Water Management for Potatoes’ which summarises the latest research findings and recommendations for efficient seasonal water management.   

The publication covers early-season irrigation to control common scab, consequences of over-watering, and late-season irrigation to reduce bruising and secondary growth. It looks at how to adapt irrigation regimes for varietal susceptibility to Common Scab and Common Scab control (getting ready, starting the control regime and irrigation timelines), along with much more.


SPot (East) Elveden Farms – West Suffolk

The AHDB Strategic Potato Farm (SPot) programme up-scales the research and demonstrates the on-farm implementation of the science from our £1.5m annual R&D investment in a commercial, field-scale environment.

SPot West – WB Daw & Sons (Staffordshire), SPot Scotland – Bruce Farms (Perthshire) and SPot East – Elveden  (West Suffolk) are the three hosts this year ( .

”I’m coordinating the SPot East project,” states Jenny. “We're demonstrating 8 treaments altogether at Elveden this year with a focus on using water effectively to maximise marketable crop.”

Further resources

AHDB Potatoes water reports and technical briefings can be found at
For printed copies of the report, email Jenny Bashford at

Take the water survey now:

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