Environment Bill may threaten future irrigation prospects
Flexible approaches to water abstraction licensing have been welcomed, but longer-term proposed changes could put farming businesses at a disadvantage in the future.
Defra has recently published its response to the consultation on proposals to reform abstraction licensing. The proposals, which form part of the draft Environment Bill, include increasing the Environment Agency’s powers to amend and revoke abstract licenses without compensation.
It comes after two challenging years of below average rainfall which have put pressure on irrigation, explains NFU water resource specialist Paul Hammett.
“We all know how difficult it was in 2018. We have been fortunate in 2019 that we had rainfall events just when we needed them so we haven’t suffered as badly as we could have.” Recent changes to regulations in response to NFU requests for a more flexible approach to abstraction rules have been welcomed, he said.
The Environment Agency trialled some flexible licensing approaches and will look to build on these ‘where environmentally sustainable’ Defra says in its response to the consultation. It also said that it would consider grants for farmers to invest in their own water resources and to reduce reliance on abstraction.
The flexible approaches included allowing farmers to fill reservoirs in June, said Mr Hammett. This meant that farmers had been allowed to take water on application when there was sufficient water in their local river. More than 100 growers had made use of this, he added.
Similarly, since 2018 growers had been able to trade their abstraction licence with a neighbour. “Water trading has been popular but you’ve got to be in right place at the right time for it to work. It is still a work in progress, but definitely a step in the right direction.”
This was all very pertinent looking ahead to 2020 he said. “Groundwater is very important in East Anglia for agriculture and for the public water supply and rivers many of which are fed by aquifers. We are really worried about the prospect of a dry winter when we already have low levels in the aquifers.
“We will be working very closely with the Environment Agency, abstraction groups and farmers on how we can best manage looking ahead to 2020.”
The proposal to alter the Environment Agency’s powers to change abstraction licences is potentially a ‘big shift’, said Mr Hammett. “The Agency can already change or revoke abstraction licences but if it seeks to take away an historic right it has to compensate that abstractor.
“The new powers make it possible for them to make changes without compensating the licence holder.” This change could be contained in the Environment Bill which might be in place before the end of this year, he explained. If included in the Act it would come into force on 1st January 2028.
“It is pretty bad news – farmers consider their abstraction licences to be an historic and legal right. And currently if a business loses its right, the impact is at least partly mitigated by compensation provision. If this disappears it leaves the business at a disadvantage.”
In its response to the consultation Defra said that it recognises that licence holders consider abstraction licences to be a business asset and a property right: “We want to protect licence holders’ ability to abstract where it is fair and right to do so. As such, these powers would only be used by the Environment Agency after other solutions have been exhausted; we expect the Environment Agency to work closely with the affected licence holder in these situations; and on a case by case basis.”
The NFU made ‘a very robust’ submission to the government consultation said Mr Hammett. This included commenting on the suggestion that un-used licenses should be revoked. “Unused doesn’t always mean un-needed,” said Mr Hammett. “Farmers’ need for water is hugely variable based on the season and where we are in the crop rotation.
“We think that there are better ways of improving the management of water courses through the voluntary approach that has already been started – encouraging farmers on the same river length to work together in ways to minimise impact on the ecology of the river.
“Voluntary measures can succeed without the need for blanket regulation.”
Record year laying irrigation pipes
It’s been another record year for Philip Millington Water Services which has laid over 65,000m of irrigation pipes in the past 12 months.
This has meant that drainage has had to take a back seat with all the drainage machinery being stored undercover ready for coming out again this autumn.
To keep up with demand the company has purchased another new 9t excavator to add to its kit which included 8t, 14t, 3cx and 1.8t excavators. It is also now running two low loaders to keep the machinery in the right place.
James Hunt has been promoted to oversee all of the installations giving Richard Millington more time to see customers to design and sell products.
“Brexit is very slowly coming upon us and currently the pound is slowly falling to the Euro,” said Richard. “This is going to make our irrigation products more expensive as most come from abroad.” He urges potential customers to make enquiries soon if they are interested in new equipment. Underground irrigation mains are currently holding on price but are also forecast to increase in price, he warned. To combat any worries about supply the company is going to hold a quantity of pipe in stock. Philip Millington Water Services is also agent for Briggs Irrigation equipment.
The risk of working with high pressure water and hydrant tops
One of the hazards of working with water at high pressure is the damage it causes when a pipe bursts. Also the hydrant tap becoming disconnected when a hydrant is opened in a pressurised main line pipe.
The team at Wroot Water has started modifying hydrants and putting a lever valve in the riser that is between two flanges. This eliminates being directly over the hydrant top when opening the hydrant therefore reducing the risk of injury if the hydrant top comes off.
Wroot Water is conscious of making safety the main priority as any accident that can be prevented is good for the industry, said the company. In the irrigation season when under high work pressure, it is easy to forget high water pressure. We are able to give a full evaluation on site and can modify any hydrant riser to the new Wroot dual valve safety system, added Wroot Water.
Fibre broadband installed by drainage firm
Many rural businesses are aware of the struggles to compete with and keep in contact with town and city businesses, due to poor and slow internet services.
To go it alone with a private internet service can be very expensive to set up and run; however Miles Drainage continues to be busy installing fibre broadband in both urban and rural areas, throughout East Anglia and beyond.
“If you are suffering from a poor internet service, then our company may be able to broker a deal for you,” said a spokesman. “Your broadband supplier may supply the ducting and cables, while the business or home owner finances only the installation.”
As a Utility Approved Contractor Miles Drainage operates both tracked and wheeled trenchless plows, capable of installing cable and duct up to one metre deep, with minimal disturbance to the ground surface.
Should the plow not be cost effective, or there are existing drains that require repairing, then the company also has the option to use a trencher on either wheels or tracks or an excavator.
Based in East Anglia but operating nationwide, in addition to the utility work, Miles Drainage provides a GPS-based land drainage design and installation service to agricultural, equestrian and sports field customers. The company also manufactures and sells the Single Leg Mole Plough, supplying both spares and wearing parts.
It makes sense to invest in the land
Data led decisions are playing an ever important part in determining both the need for drainage in the first place, as well as the benefits that drainage schemes are providing post installation.
William Morfoot managing director Tim Sisson said: “Many of our clients are using tools such as yield mapping, satellite and drone imagery and other tools to accurately identify the potential benefits of land drainage investment.
“When married together with the recognition that many drainage schemes are now extremely tired and past their best, along with the ever growing issue of black-grass presence, the rapid return on investment from new land drainage infrastructure is increasingly attractive to many landowners.
“On top of that, the proposed changes to the BPS scheme mean that farmers are looking closely at how to achieve the most from their land at the moment. The yield uplift which new drainage schemes offer makes the decision an easy one to justify in the face of falling farm incomes and rising costs elsewhere in arable agriculture.”
Norfolk-based William Morfoot delivers comprehensive land drainage schemes including all design and installation work to farm businesses across the UK. Works include design and surveying, land drain installation, ditch maintenance and wider drainage infrastructure improvements.
Pump packages for all needs
Both new or used diesel and electric wastewater and clean water pumps, together with associated plant for the farming community are available from Stuart Pumps in Shropham, Norfolk.
The company, which was recently awarded a UK distributor agreement with Xylem Godwin Pumps, also offers additional package benefits including a selection of pump paint finishes blending with the environment and assisting with site security. Packages can also include silenced pumps if near residential property, full service agreements and out of hours call-outs. It is possible to purchase the equipment outright or have a rental contract and Stuart offers site delivery and installation as well as on-site training in operation and maintenance.
Consider clay for drainage projects
West Yorkshire drainage specialist WT Knowles & Sons has been supplying the farming community since 1906.
The company produces clay land drains as well as a range of clay drainage pipes, gullies, traps, interceptors, grease traps and channel fittings. It also manufactures salt glazed products, which the company says can last for centuries.
Its channel pipes and manger tubes can be used as feeding troughs for cattle and other livestock.
The end of a crop rotation – or a dry spell – is the ideal opportunity to lay new land drains, it advises. Removing surplus water from the land improves soil structure and prevents problems caused by waterlogging, directly benefitting with higher yields, extending the grazing season and reducing costs.
Free-draining soil enhances seed germination as a result of faster warming, allowing stronger crop establishment.
New regulations, effective in January 2020 mean that the farmer can no longer discharge from a septic tank to a watercourse directly. To comply with new regulations, farmers must either swap the septic tank to a sewage treatment plant or install a drainage field soakaway system.
Clay is the ideal drainage material for the farming community, says WT Knowles. It is extremely strong, retains its shape, withstands varying temperatures and is environmentally friendly.
Making long-term plans for drainage projects
Drainage might not be at the forefront of farmers’ minds right now, with the long dry spell continuing for most of East Anglia, and Brexit creating an air of uncertainty among many.
But farming does not operate in the short term, with multi-year planning not uncommon, says Allan Collyer: “Drainage by its very nature is long term with correctly designed and installed schemes expected to last 50 years or more, but with improvements to soil structure and health being felt immediately the land drains start to work.”
Reservoir construction is also for the long term and Allan Collyer & Sons is well experienced in both removing excess water or constructing storage reservoirs to hold it. A recent project was a clay-lined water storage reservoir for a local producer which was constructed for the irrigation of cereals.
Noise-insulated pump added to irrigation range
Fully noise-insulated irrigation pump sets for water abstraction are now part of Bauer’s comprehensive crop irrigation equipment range.
The mobile pump set offers a choice of engines and fuel tank sizes, has a well-proven pump, and an electronic control panel that can be linked to Bauer’s SmartRain remote control system via an app on a smart phone or other mobile device.
Unlike the open canopy pump sets produced by Bauer, the new design has a fully sound-proofed enclosure for the engine, pump and controller, which are accessible via lockable doors. Only suction and pressure hose couplings, the engine exhaust silencer and an emergency stop button are located outside the canopy.
The pump set’s two-wheel chassis has galvanised steel mudguards, generous tyres and road lighting, plus four crank handle wind-down stability legs and a removable drawbar for security.
It also incorporates a choice of 650-, 1000- and 1500-litre diesel tanks to fuel an engine from FPT Industrial. There is a choice of 4.5-litre, 4-cyl engines from 100hp (74kW) to a 6.7-litre, 6-cyl with 125hp (93kW) output driving Caprari MEC MG 80-4/3A and MEC 100HT/2a centrifugal pumps.
This pump is primed manually as standard from the on-board Supertank supply, or automatically with an upgrade to the Elcos CIM250 control panel. The optional CIM136 controller adds automatic engine speed control to maintain water pressure and an integrated modem for remote start/stop via a mobile, as well as the potential to remotely monitor, control and receive status messages from the pumpset via Bauer’s SmartRain irrigation management system.