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Meeting the drought challenge

10/09/2018

Many UK growers will remember the summer of 2018 and some will wish they could forget it.

The intense focus on water and irrigation has also resulted in some excellent examples of the way growers have 'risen to the challenge' and we can report on two who have done just that.

Below we look at the steps taken by Lincolnshire farmers LCJ Mountain Farms while in our case histories you can read about the strategy adopted by fenland farmer David Hoyles.

Water where its needed 

Based near Sleaford on the edge of the fens, LCJ Mountain Farms Ltd have recently turned their attention from chipping to pre-pack potatoes in partnership with one of the main packhouses. This season 164 acres have been grown as part of a nine-year rotation with wheat and OSR.  The transition to growing for quality rather than bulk has created new demands on crop husbandry and the farm’s resources, as director Matt Mountain explained: 

“Growing pre-pack potatoes is technically more demanding and consultants Agri-tech Services have been monitoring the water deficit via weekly sensor recordings. This gives a precise base for their advice on irrigation requirements as well as for overall crop management.” 

Sufficient water is obviously essential at tuber formation if scab is to be minimized. Fortunately most of the land – comprising a range of light to heavy silts – was planted in May which saw average rainfall and went in surprisingly well. June, on the other hand, provided just 30.4 mm, well below the 25 year average and most of that fell early in the month. In July the rain gauge recorded 26.2 mm; 40% of the 25 year average and dramatically less than the previous year (72mm). Irrigation has therefore been essential from the outset for quality and yield. Fortunately the farm has sufficient water licences.

“We originally had licences for 55,688 m3but two years ago I realized we would need more water and obtained consent to extract a further 92,500 m3. We are in the Black Sluice catchment but we can draw fresh water and have effectively used the Great Hale Eau as a reservoir. This means we have enough water to apply 200 mm to the land used for potatoes this year. So far we have used around 85,000 m3,” Matt said.

John Mountain - Matt’s father - had installed underground mains some years ago and the farm has two older hosereels with rainguns. But in order to meet the extra demand for irrigation Matt decided additional equipment was needed. Water Resources Management grants are still available under the Countryside Productivity Scheme and Matt began researching the equipment he would need.  Funding can be obtained for up to 40% of the total project cost. Matt’s research for the grant took him to Briggs Irrigation:

“As I looked at the options I became aware of the benefits offered by modern booms and Adrian Colwill of Briggs Irrigation took me on a tour of their factory in Corby where their booms are made. I was impressed by the factory, the equipment and the support I received and we ordered a R64/2 boom and VR7 110/550 hosereel. This system can place large volumes of water accurately over a width of up to 72 m on a 555 m run.