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Water availability – last year’s drought taking its toll

Publication Date: 
18 March 2019

“Dry, dry, dry!” said Norfolk potato grower Tim Papworth at the end of February. Despite a wet and windy patch for some in March, the hot dry summer and a lack of rain over the winter has left many growers worried about water for the 2019 growing season.

“This dry spell and the lack of rain over winter so far has meant that many growers have not been able to fill their reservoirs.” Said Tim in his NFU newsletter column.

Like many growers, Tim has local issues on water availability to contend with, including abstraction licence availability.

Growers can check the regional picture at Hydrological Outlook UK, where, consistent with Tim’s concerns, the summary reports: ‘Below normal river flows and groundwater levels in parts of central and eastern England are likely to persist through the spring (March-May).’

Local forecasting – help test new water availability modelling service

“We are working with researchers at the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology on a new forecasting service for river flows” says Dr Nicola Dunn Resource Management Scientist at AHDB.

“There is modelling available based on historical weather data that can be used to indicate the potential likelihood of ‘hands-off-flow’ conditions using historical flow data in 300 river catchments across the UK. If you’re interested in trying this out please contact me at

Where water reports are available:

SPot Farm trials show variety susceptibility to common scab

The current situation could see growers having to make tough decisions about water use.

We updated our Seasonal Water Management Guide for Potatoes last year, based on research conducted by NIAB CUF as part of our Strategic Farm programme. The guide now includes four susceptibility categories for common scab and a maximum soil moisture deficit in each category across 6 soil types. There are 31 of the most popular fresh-pack varieties featured in the table.

The guide also includes advice on cultivations, planting and irrigation methods, among other key areas that can affect water use.

Download the guide here

Trickle irrigation?

“Trickle irrigation, also known as drip irrigation, now requires an abstraction licence in England and Wales” says Nicola.

“Growers previously using the technique under an exemption have been able to continue without a licence under transitional arrangements. They must have a valid application with the EA by end of 2019, so it’s best to apply soon to have it checked. You won’t be able to make changes to your application if it is left too late.”

Application portals:

Growers considering applying for a drip irrigation licence can visit our Strategic Potato Farm North events over the summer where we will hold irrigation trials to look at impact of switching to trickle vs spray irrigation.

Further reading

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