A report, recently published by Cranfield University and the National Farmers Union (NFU), highlights the benefits for water users of more flexible mechanisms to access water during dry periods.

Emergency procedures had to be put in place by the Environment Agency (EA) this summer as many growers were close to running out of water and struggled to meet their crops’ water demands.

Paul Hammett, NFU water specialist and co-author of the report, said: “The licence ‘flexibility’ introduced during the 2018 irrigation season offered immediate help to farmers facing water shortages but also highlighted the strengths and weaknesses of current water trading practices.”

Alongside the report, Cranfield and the NFU co-ordinated a workshop with growers to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of current and potential water trading practices. Benefits included water being more readily-available but there were concerns over undesired impacts for the sector and the  environment.

In the report, the authors recommend the introduction of ‘secondary market’ products that would allow agreements between buyers and sellers of water to be made significantly in advance of the exchange; at the beginning of the irrigation season, for example.

Dr Dolores Rey, Lecturer in Water Policy and Economics and co-author, said: “From the workshop, it was clear that farmers would like to have a more active participation in the water market. We believe that introducing new products would offer greater flexibility and risk-reduction benefits to agriculture.”

Cranfield and NFU will continue to work together with other key stakeholders to gather lessons learned from the recent drought, with a view to building on the key messages contained in this report.

The full report is available to read.

About Cranfield University

Cranfield University is a specialist postgraduate university that is a global leader for education and transformational research in technology and management.

Environment and Agrifood at Cranfield

For the past 50 years, Cranfield has been contributing to enhancing natural capital and ensuring that global food systems are more resilient for the future. We are recognised worldwide by industry, government and academe for our research and teaching in plants, soil, water and air.

We believe that environmental problems can be alleviated through technological innovation and risk management.

Cranfield is a key partner in two of the four UK Government-sponsored Agri-tech Centres – Agri-Epi (Agricultural Engineering Precision Innovation Centre) and CHaP (Crop Health and Protection), with over £10 million invested in new infrastructure since 2017.

Our education, research and consultancy is enhanced by our world-class facilities including the National Reference Centre for Soils, which houses the largest collection of its kind in Europe and is recognised as the UK’s definitive source of national soils information, and our big data visualisation suite, which has tools to analyse big data collections including environmental resources from 280 countries/territories worldwide.

In 2017, Cranfield was awarded the Queen’s Anniversary Prize for research and education in large-scale soil and environmental data for the sustainable use of natural resources in the UK and worldwide, the first time in the Prize’s history that an award has been given for soil science.