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WATER RESOURCES AND GLOBAL CHANGE; IMPLICATIONS FOR THE FUTURE OF IRRIGATED AGRICULTURE IN ENGLAND

Congress: 2008
Author(s):

Keyword(s): irrigation, adaptation, sustainability, England
AbstractINTRODUCTION UK farmers apply supplemental irrigation to many high value crops, particularly potatoes and vegetables. Water demand is growing at 2 to 3% annually. However, water resources in many catchments are already over-committed and in some already over-abstracted. Climate change is expected to result in higher irrigation needs, and reduced water availability, particularly in the summer months when irrigation use is highest. OBJECTIVES The research aimed to quantify the future impacts of global change on irrigated agriculture in England, the likely adaptations, and the implications of those changes METHODS Current data and trends in irrigation water use, future socio-economic scenarios and climate change impact modeling were used to predict future irrigation water demands. These were compared with predicted future water availability under global change. The likely impacts at farm level were studied by modeling and farmer attitude surveys, to identify likely adaptations and their implications to the rural economy and sustainability objectives. RESULTS The modeling showed growing water resource constraints under most future scenarios, particularly in the south-east where most irrigation is located. Farm modeling and farmer interviews suggest that farmers will still wish to grow high value irrigated crops such as potatoes and field-scale vegetables. If water resources are limited, they will initially adapt by reducing irrigation of lower value crops and investing in farm reservoirs, storing winter abstraction. However, the extra costs will reduce farm net margins, and make farm businesses more vulnerable. If water management policy forces farmers to cease irrigation, there would be negative impacts on the rural economy and rural employment. The currently irrigated crops would be imported, with substantially greater water use and environmental impacts elsewhere CONCLUSIONS Under global change, there is a clear risk of major restrictions on future abstraction for agricultural irrigation in England, and the need for significant adaptive responses. Adaptations options do exist, albeit with costs. Restricting the use of water for irrigation may solve local problems but could increase overall environmental impacts.
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