Tom Ormesher  -  Water Markets and Irrigation Business Growth

John Oldacre Foundation

My formative years were spent in Kent working summer jobs on various farms. I loved every minute of my degree at Wye College, focussing on environmental science - but always through the lens of agriculture and countryside management. After graduation I spent several years working in a multi-disciplinary environmental consultancy, which included projects related to the impacts of abstraction management and water transfer schemes; and a secondment to Thames Water.

I’ve worked at the NFU since 2013 as the Environment and Land Use Adviser in South East England, taking the job shortly after my partner and I completed building a house on her family’s farm nearby. My current work involves advising NFU members on regulatory matters and advocating the interests of farmers with wider society on issues relating to development planning, water resources, water quality, flooding, land drainage, rights of way and agricultural tenancy. This involves several ongoing initiatives designed to help characterise the need for irrigation security and to identify realistic options for increasing available water for food production across the region.

It’s a great privilege to have been awarded a Nuffield Scholarship made possible by the John Oldacre Foundation.

  • Project Details

For many production systems, having sufficient high quality water at the right time in the right place is an absolute must for producing good yields of marketable quality. Farmers and growers continue to innovate in response to increasing retail demand but the bottom line is they need a fair share of water if they are to produce more food.

Around 80% of UK growers operate in catchments that are either over-abstracted or over-licensed and we’re approaching a shifting situation from overall surplus to deficit where competition is now increasing. It’s becoming increasingly important to consider how additional water supplies can be allocated for food production but at the same time ensuring the sector is a good steward of the water environment, managing the pattern of demand within sustainable limits.

As part of a package of abstraction reforms Defra plan to introduce water trading where “permit holders can trade more easily at times when the availability of water is low” possibly giving abstractors more flexibility during low flow conditions.

Water markets have been introduced in several countries over recent decades. The Murray Darling Basin in Australia has the most mature water market in the world with an average turnover of nearly $2 billion where trading is now a business tool for many irrigators.  There are also varying approaches to water markets and managing scarcity from California, Spain, the Netherlands and Israel that may provide valuable lessons to the UK context

During my scholarship I plan to learn from the farmer experiences in countries where water reforms have been introduced, to identify any key issues and opportunities applicable as we face our own reforms in England and Wales.

Please feel free to follow my updates on twitter @NFU_SEenv #watermarkets