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Farmers warned that drought could lead to water restrictions in Suffolk

PUBLISHED: 09:45 06 June 2011

John Collen from Whitehouse farm, Gisleham in a field of wheat. The height of the wheat that he is holding is the height that the crop in the field should be at.

John Collen from Whitehouse farm, Gisleham in a field of wheat. The height of the wheat that he is holding is the height that the crop in the field should be at.

Archant © 2011

FARMERS have today been warned they could face limits on the amount of water they use if the current drought continues.

The Environment Agency has been forced into action because of a severe lack of rainfall in Suffolk.

The warning is a further blow to farmers, whose crops have been severely affected by the desperately dry conditions.

Last month East Anglia received the least rainfall in the country, with only 47pc of its monthly total.

The Environment Agency has now written to farmers warning of abstraction restrictions for rivers, including the Blyth, Deben, Alde, Ore and Waveney in Suffolk.

Last night farmers across the region said the news was not unexpected but feared it would make life even harder, while others called for changes to current legislation which prevents them from collecting excess water during winter.

John Collen, who sits on the crops board of the National Farmers Union (NFU) and farms at Gisleham, near Lowestoft, said: “We have an extremely dry situation at the moment. If we have restrictions then that will be a very bad position to be in.

“We had hoped this could be avoided, that we would be able to get some concessions on what we were allowed to abstract. The spring crop are an absolute disaster anyway, without water they will just become nothing. It could have dire consequences.

“I’ve heard people say that this isn’t as bad as 1976 (when there was another hot, dry summer) but it’s far worse. Anyone who says it isn’t is burying their head in the sand.

“Even if it rains every day from now on it will still be worse because this year it has started so early.”

Stephen Rash, Suffolk council delegate for the NFU, has the Waveney River running through his farm at Wortham, near Diss.

“It’s not unexpected but restrictions will obviously make life extremely difficult to maintain quality of production - especially for those with vegetables and potatoes who need irrigation,” he said. “People need food but people also need water to drink, it’s about getting that balance.”

Suffolk Coastal MP Therese Coffey said it was clearly a very worrying time for farmers and assured she would be continuing to call upon ministers to ensure the Environment Agency was working as flexibly as possible.

A spokeswoman for the Environment Agency said the intense dry spell had caused river levels to drop and demand for irrigation water had been high.

“We have recently written to farmers in specific river catchments across Essex, Norfolk and Suffolk to give them an early warning that if the situation does not improve we may have to impose formal restrictions on abstraction for spray irrigation at the end of June,” she said. “We have also asked them to make voluntary reductions in their water use to try and delay the need for formal restrictions.

“We will continue to monitor the situation and work closely with farmers to asses their needs and help them lessen any potential impact on their businesses.”

• WEATHER experts are predicting an unsettled week ahead - better news for farmers and gardeners struggling with the dry conditions.

The threat of rain should linger for a number of days, with temperatures dropping and even a risk of thundery showers.

John Law, from east of England forecasters Weatherquest, said: “This next week does look more unsettled compared to the weather we have seen over the last couple of months.

“We will lose the high pressure - that will stay to the west of us. Low pressure will move in from the south. As a result everyday this week holds a chance of a shower.

“There may not be many that make is across to us but there is a possibility. It will be cooler and we will lose the north easterly winds as well.”

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