Farming minister George Eustice opened a new research centre in Kent yesterday aimed at improving irrigation, minimising water use and boosting growers’ returns.
Eustice, who visited the NIAB EMR Wet Centre at the Fruit Focus trade show in Kent, said: “Water is increasingly going to become a scarce resource with climate change and, with the exception of last night’s storms across parts of Britain, we’ve obviously had quite a dry summer.
“Water scarcity is a challenge for the industry and that’s why making efficient use of that water is crucial. It’s all down to the technology – refining our systems of irrigation so that we get less run off and waste less water.”
On the issue of water abstraction reform, the former soft fruit grower added: “The government was looking at non-legislative ways to try to improve the situation. Trickle irrigation can be an incredible efficient effective way of using water because you’re not putting on a spray gun across the whole crop and getting a lot of evaporation.
So, in principle, trickle irrigation systems are absolutely the way to go provided we can make sure they’re being used effectively.”
The three-year project in East Malling is a collaboration between NIAB EMR, soft fruit grower Berry Gardens, growing media supplier Cocogreen, Delta-T monitoring devices, irrigation equipment specialist Netafim and its UK partner New Leaf Irrigation.
It brings together scientists and irrigation suppliers to support the commercialisation of trickle irrigation systems, using demonstration trials and workshops to show growers how the new technologies can improve water productivity, marketable yields and financial returns.
The system can be tailored to different soft fruit varieties, with NIAB EMR offering packages to support customers in how to install and run it.
Trials have demonstrated yield increases of up to 10 per cent, water use reduction of up to 30 per cent, and 20 per cent savings on fertilisers, pesticides, water and energy costs.