UK crops to face water supply crunch, may relocate

LONDON Mon Oct 18, 2010 4:04pm EDT

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LONDON (Reuters) - Agricultural crops in Britain may need to be moved to new areas as the threat of both drought and flooding rises in the coming decades, a report commissioned by the Royal Agricultural Society of England said on Monday.

The report said climate change was expected to produce higher temperatures, drier summers and wetter winters across much of England.

"This is likely to mean reduced river flow and less water available for agriculture," said one of the report's authors, Alison Bailey, of the University of Reading's School of Agriculture, Policy and Development.

The report also said there was a clear risk from more frequent extremes of drought and flooding.

"Plant breeders will need to incorporate drought resistance and waterlogging tolerance into new varieties...planners must be flexible in allowing farms to build reservoirs so that they can conserve winter rainfall for summer irrigation," Ian Smith, Agri-Science Director of RASE said in a statement.

WESTWARD BOUND

The report said crops that need irrigation, such as sugar beet and vegetables, may be forced to shift from the drier east of England to the wetter west of the country.

River flow was seen reducing by about 20 percent by 2020 and 40 percent by the 2050s.

The report's recommendations included better use of excess winter rainfall through capture and storage and investment in hedges, ditches and ponds to reduce flood risk.

"For a long time, water management in the UK has concentrated on getting water off land and into rivers and drains and then into the sea," RASE's Smith said.

"Perhaps we need to rethink some of these strategies and divert more of that water into storage for later use."

The report produced by scientists from the Walker Institute for Climate System Research and the School of Agriculture Policy and Development, both at the University of Reading. (Reporting by Nigel Hunt; editing by James Jukwey)

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