Water for Food Group

Water for agriculture means jobs, stable rural economies, and increased food security

This page is under development August 2022

Agriculture has many “champions” but it has lacked one for water.  Most agricultural organisations focus on commodities or business.  Now the ‘Water for Food Group’ (WfFG) brings many of these organisations together to provide that coordinated and strong voice for water for food.

Limited water resources and droughts, particularly across the midlands, east, and south east of England has focused attention on the need for a strong and coordinated voice to ensure that agriculture gets a fair share of the nation’s water resources.  Many agriculturally related organisations promote the wise use of water for agriculture and food production.  Some deal with local abstractor issues, such as Water Abstractor Groups; some focus on specific crop interests, such as potatoes, vegetables, top and soft fruit, and nurseries; some have research interests, such as the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB), East Malling Research, and Cranfield and Cambridge Universities, while others have a broader farming remit, such as NFU, CLA. 

All these organisations were set up with good reason, they operate independently often because they serve particular membership interests, and they have laudable objectives.  But they are largely disconnected over water.  This can lead to duplication of effort, inefficient use of limited resources, and most importantly a fragmented and potentially weak lobby for critical water resources on which they all depend.

Forming the group

The idea for a water for food group has been discussed for some years but the catalyst was the 2010-12 drought and it grew out of the Defra-appointed agricultural group formed at that time.  When the Defra group was disbanded at the end of the drought, a number of like-minded farming organisations decided to continue to work together on issues relating to food and water security.

The WfFG is an informal, and importantly, an independent forum that believes it is important for the agriculture and horticultural sectors to work together and build social capital among a wide range of individuals and organisations with strong interests in securing water for food production, and who can act as a strong coordinated voice for water for food.  

The group meets about three time a year to exchange information, discuss current water for food issues, including drought and changes taking place in water licencing, and to coordinate water activities across the agricultural sector.  The NFU and the Environment Agency act as the secretariat.  The UKIA was a founder member.

The Group operates informally and encourages membership from ‘individuals’ within organisations who have a keen personal interest in water for food rather than the more formal approach involving ‘representatives’ of organisations. In this way it encourages open and frank discussion of issues among people who know each other. 

The NFU has provided a ‘home’ for the group which usually meets in the NFU office in Newmarket under the chairmanship of Paul Hammett, NFU Water Policy Adviser.  The Environment Agency kindly provide administrative support. 

Membership has grown to include individuals from:

Association of Drainage Authorities (ADA), Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB), Anglian Water, Central Association of Agricultural Valuers (CAAV), Country Land and Business Association (CLA), Cranfield University, Environment Agency (EA), Envireau Water, East Suffolk Water Abstractors Group (ESWAG), Food and Drink Federation (FDF), Horticultural Trades Association (HTA), Institute of Grocery Distribution (IGD), Lark Abstractors Group, National Farmers Union (NFU), Thet Abstractors Group, University of East Anglia (UEA), UK Irrigation Association (UKIA).