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Drought threatens England’s fruit and vegetable crop next year, says report

Farmers have warned they will not be able to grow crops next year if predictions that the drought will last until next summer prove accurate.

Leaked slides from a national drought group meeting, seen by the Observer, show there are concerns that because reservoirs are still empty due to record dry conditions, the fruit and vegetable supply chain could collapse.

They read: “If reservoirs cannot be filled during the winter 2022/23, which it is felt could be a possibility, this would have serious implications for businesses, the supply chains and those employed within them.

“Confidence is needed by the sector to have access to water to enable cropping plans to be enacted. Where confidence is not available, cropping rotations are being reviewed and reductions in areas of irrigated crops/water hungry crops are being undertaken.”

At the meeting, attended by the Environment Agency, water companies, farmers and other groups, there were warnings that it was unlikely that there would be enough rainfall to refill reservoirs and enable normal river flows by next year.

On Friday, the government announced that the drought in England was expected to last for many months, with further restrictions on water use under consideration.

Though rainfall levels were average across most of the country in September, this was not enough to dampen the soil and refill reservoirs after a dry and scorching summer.

Consistent above-average rainfall is needed throughout the autumn and winter to bring England out of drought, and this is not likely.

This could spell disaster for the agriculture sector, which has already faced reduced yields for crops including potatoes and barley.

The National Trust, also at the meeting, warned that its sites were running out of water. It said that this would impact its aims to meet net zero carbon emissions as tree planting was a large part of the strategy. It said there would probably be fewer flower displays in its gardens next year.

Tom Bradshaw, the National Farmers’ Union’s deputy president, said: “As the irrigation season is coming to a close and attention is turned to winter abstraction for storage reservoir fill, we have been working with the Environment Agency to further support the industry through these challenging times, with flexible abstraction measures being provided.

“However, more needs to be done to provide short-term certainty that water will be available for food production for the next growing season.”

Reservoirs across the country are currently at exceptionally low levels. Only one major reservoir in the country is assessed to be at normal water level for this year, with most others notably or exceptionally low.

The situation is particularly bad in Devon and Cornwall.

South West Water drought director Jo Ecroyd told the BBC that the region had experienced some of the driest weather for 130 years.

Currently, the water levels at Colliford Lake in Cornwall are at about 20%, according to the South West Lakes Trust. Roadford Lake, which can store up to 34,500 megalitres, is currently at 38% capacity.

Overall the company’s water storage is at 31.5% capacity.

Millions in the London and Oxfordshire areas could be placed under severe restrictions in coming months because the data also revealed that Thames Water is considering non-essential use bans.


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