Reform of the 50-year-old abstraction licensing regime must ensure a fair share of water for farming, says NFU East Anglia.
It says that a consultation launched on December 17 by Environment Minister Dan Rogerson is an opportunity to deliver a new system that makes the link between food security and water security.
And it is urging farmers to get involved in the consultation by attending one of six meetings taking place across the region in the new year.
Newmarket-based NFU National Water Specialist Paul Hammett said: “Farmers use less than 1% of total abstracted water nationally but they hold two thirds of abstraction licences so any changes to the regulatory system could have a major impact on agriculture and horticulture.
“Fruit and vegetable production is hugely important in East Anglia. It depends on irrigation but access to water is vulnerable because farming has to compete with local homes and businesses and a highly-protected environment.
“We will study Defra’s proposals carefully but we see this as an opportunity to shape a fairer system of managing and allocating water - one that treats all users equitably.”
The NFU has organised a meeting in each of the region’s key catchments to explain the implications of Defra’s proposals and obtain members’ views. The first meeting takes place at Farnham, Suffolk on Thursday 23 January and it will be chaired by NFU Deputy President Meurig Raymond.
Mr Raymond said: “Climate change and population growth are making national food security an increasingly important issue for Government. Meanwhile more and more consumers are actively seeking high quality British food.
“If farmers are to succeed in growing this food they need a secure supply of water. Yet during periods of scarcity, water for domestic use, industry and the environment generally takes precedence.
“We need to redress that balance and find a better system that allocates a fair share of water to farmers to grow our food.”
The Defra consultation will close on 28 March and farmers can visit GOV.UK to take part.