Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich asks about water supply to farms

The Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich received the following written answers on 9th November 2022:

The Lord Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich asked His Majesty’s Government what help they are giving to ensure that farmers can access the water they need this winter to give them confidence to plant next year’s crops.

Lord Benyon (Con): Through Defra and the Environment Agency (EA) we are working closely with agricultural sector groups, including the National Farmers Union (NFU), to support farmers to fill farm storage reservoirs this autumn and winter. The EA has a package of measures in place to support farmers through Local Enforcement Positions to allow abstraction beyond their licence conditions. These include taking high flows, when available, to start early refill of storage reservoirs; working with water companies to share their supplies to help farmers; prioritising abstraction licence applications associated with storage reservoir grant applications; encouraging farmers to review water needs and vary licences now to improve their resilience for next year.

Agricultural representatives, including the NFU, are members of National Drought Group (NDG), which is regularly meeting and has contributed to understanding the risks for agricultural production and has agreed actions to reduce the impacts. The NDG met on 14th October 2022 to discuss the prospects for winter recharge, potential for drought conditions in 2023 and actions to help different sectors, including agriculture. My colleague, Trudy Harrison attended the meeting, highlighting the importance of this issue to HM Government. The next meeting will be on 28 November 2022.


The Lord Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich asked His Majesty’s Government what discussions they have had, if any, with the Environment Agency about increasing the number of on-farm reservoirs; and whether they will make their advice public.

Lord Benyon: The Farming Transformation Fund (FTF), part of the overall Farming Investment Fund (opens in a new tab), provides grants towards large capital items such as on-farm reservoirs for water management to help agriculture businesses improve productivity, profitability, and environmental sustainability. The Environment Agency (EA) continues to support the Rural Payments Agency (RPA), who administer this fund by determining the abstraction licences associated with these applications.

In response to customer feedback, the RPA extended the full application submission deadline for the Farming Transformation Fund water management applications from 30 June until 30 September 2022. It also extended the deadline for the submission of planning permission and abstraction licences from 31 December 2022 to 31 March 2023.

The RPA has also sent out a second tranche of projects to submit FTF water management full applications. The deadline to submit a full application is 30 November 2022. The deadline for the submission of planning permission and abstraction licences, where they are required for a project, is 31 May 2023.


The Lord Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich asked His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the current storage levels in on-farm reservoirs.

Lord Benyon: The Environment Agency (EA) does not routinely monitor the storage levels in the privately owned 2,000 farm storage reservoirs in England. We know that many farm storage reservoirs are currently at low levels and the EA, working with the agriculture sector, has assessed that at least average long term winter rainfall is required to ensure they are sufficiently full ahead of next year’s irrigation season. Rainfall below 100% will mean that filling reservoirs this winter will be challenging.

To help improve its understanding of the prospects of filling farm storage reservoirs, the EA is planning to provide regular updates to the farming sector on river flows at key strategic flow sites and whether they are at levels which will allow abstraction to refill reservoirs.


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