Environment secretary Michael Gove has promised to do “whatever it takes” to help drought-hit farmers maintain food supplies.
At an emergency drought summit today Gove heard firsthand the issues faced by farmers after weeks of hot, dry conditions.
The National Farmers Union (NFU) and farming charities outlined problems such as crop failure and lack of food for livestock, which had forced them to eat into winter fodder reserves, and urged the government to relieve rules around accessing additional water supplies.
Also on the agenda was providing logistical support for transporting fodder around the country where there are shortages.
After the meeting, Gove promised to do “whatever it takes in order to make sure farmers can continue to run successful businesses and that food supplies can continue to be healthy”.
NFU President Minette Batters called the summit a “wake-up call” to the government on the “the critical need to manage the volatility” of producing food.
“The impacts of the dry and hot weather have been hugely challenging for many farms across the country, with many not seeing such weather in their lifetimes,” she said.
“As we move towards a new domestic agricultural policy it’s vital that market failure and volatility are treated seriously alongside productivity and delivering for the environment in order that the nation continues to have access to British food which is high quality and produced to world leading standards.”
Before the meeting, the Environment Agency (EA) announced measures to help farmers abstract water during periods of shortage.
Farmers would be allowed to temporarily trade water allowances and, in some cases, abstract more water than usually permitted, the EA said. “Each case will be assessed to minimise impacts to the environment or the rights of other water users,” it added in a statement.
Paul Hickey, the EA's head of water resources, said the measures were in place to help “safeguard food production and animal welfare”.
“We must also balance farmers’ needs with those of wildlife and other water users so we will only allow these arrangements where we are satisfied there won’t be any adverse effects on the environment,” he said.
☛ Want to stay up to date with the news? Sign up to our daily bulletin.