Question mark hanging over West Pinchbeck farmer as government looks at water abstraction licences

David Matthews with some of the tape he uses to trickle irrigate potatoes and other crops. Photo (Tim Wilson): SG070414-112TW
David Matthews with some of the tape he uses to trickle irrigate potatoes and other crops. Photo (Tim Wilson): SG070414-112TW

The biggest shake up of water abstraction licensing in 50 years is of concern to many farmers, but it’s critically important to one West Pinchbeck grower.

David Matthews, who is director of G & D Matthews Ltd with his wife Hilary and son James, grows around 300 acres of potatoes to supply to supermarkets.

The potato is one of the thirstiest crops, and the Matthews family uses a specialist form of irrigation, abstracting water from rivers, dykes and bore holes and delivering it to the crop in a highly targeted way.

They use trickle irrigation, which David says is as much as 50 per cent more efficient than spray irrigation. It’s something they have been developing for about 14 years, recently trialling the system on high value crops such as carrots.

Until now, the process has not needed a licence, but that is about to change.

David, who sits on the NFU’s Water Resources Group and has been involved in consultations over the proposals, says: “This new water legislation is actually a fairly radical overhaul. I think what we are suggesting is it needs to be simple, cost effective, flexible and reliable.

“Farmers and growers use 0.6 per cent of abstracted water but they hold two-thirds of all abstraction licences issued in England and Wales, and we have to make sure growers have a fair share of cost effective water.

“What concerns us as trickle irrigators is we haven’t needed licensing and now there is a big question mark over what needs to be done to secure a licence for the future. We have invested heavily in trickle irrigation over 14 years and we want to know what’s around the corner before re-investment is made. However, because of its efficiency, we remain optimistic the technique has a positive long-term future.”