Water use on farm and new Red Tractor standards

New standards for Red Tractor will be launched on the 1st October 2017. The standards bring a few key changes to the way growers record and manage water use for irrigation. The changes aren't particularly significant and are being introduced to further improve the way we manage use of water on our land.

They do, however, have the potential to catch out growers who irrigate crops only on an occasional basis.

One of the main changes to be aware of is the requirement for combinable crop and sugar beet farmers who irrigate to keep water use records. Meanwhile, growers of fresh produce will need to keep the same irrigation records, as well as completing a water risk assessment.

The changes will help ensure that irrigation does not contaminate crops, and avoids excessive use of water for ongoing sustainability. 

What's new and how will it affect you and how you use water?

Combinable crop and sugar beet growers:

Where irrigation occurs, records of water usage (source of each application, volume and timing) must be kept along with regular laboratory water tests for microbiological, chemical and mineral pollutants. It is recommended that a water management plan is produced to identify opportunities for water use efficiency and waste reduction. This could include a computer model of the crop's water requirements, maintenance plans to reduce leakages, a policy to recycle roof water or winter rainfall, and a water audit. Read full new standards

Fresh produce growers:

As well as all of the above, there must be a crop-specific water risk assessment covering all water used in crop production; including irrigation, mixing of fertilisers and plant protection products, and crop and equipment washing (where appropriate). It should identify all microbiological (including E.coli), chemical and physical risks, all sources of water used on farm and all water distribution and storage facilities. There is a requirement to update this annually. Frequency of testing is in line with the water matrix appendix. This is to be completed and can be found on page 49 of the Red Tractor Fresh Produce Standards book 1st October 2017. The water test results for fresh produce must not only be carried out on irrigation water but also on the water used for mixing fertilisers and plant protection products as well as water used for washing crops and equipment. Read full new standards 

Water use, cross compliance and irrigation for all crops

As well as Red Tractor regulations relating to water, under cross compliance regulations (GAEC 2 water abstraction) it is important to remember that you must have an abstraction licence from the Environment Agency to remove more than 20 cubic meters (4,400 gallons) of water from an inland or underground source for irrigation in any one day.

Abstraction licences from The Environment Agency (GAEC 2) – some key dates to be aware of:


31st March: If you hold a water abstraction licence to abstract water between April and October, expect to receive your annual bill for the forthcoming financial year on this date. Those holding two-part tariff agreements will also receive their first bill at this point.

30th November: If you have a two-part tariff agreement for your water abstraction licence, expect to receive your second part charge after 30th November.

Submitting water readings

31st October: If you hold a water abstraction licence authorising abstraction wholly within the months of April to October, the Environment Agency will make actual abstraction return forms available to you from 31st October. You then have 28 days to submit your readings for the water you have used for the year.

1st April: If you hold a winter or all-year-round water abstraction licence (authorising abstraction outside April to October), the Environment Agency will make actual abstraction return forms available to you from 1st April. You then have 28 days to submit your readings for water used for the previous year.

Meanwhile, new requirements for potato growers who irrigate are yet to be confirmed so until then, growers should follow existing guidelines as shown in Red Tractor's Assurance Crop Module: Potatoes. Remember, it is already a requirement here to have a completed Water Risk Assessment for potatoes.

As with most things related to cross compliance and Red Tractor, nothing is insurmountable but the changes will require growers, particularly those who irrigate only occasionally, to be aware and prepared to take some time to gather and submit the information required. There's plenty of help and advice available related to meeting these regulations and record keeping which will help ensure you meet all requirements, new and existing.

​Fiona Spires
Agronomist and MyCompliance advisor

For specific advice for your business related to this blog or any other aspect of crop production get in touch with Frontier.

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