Water resilience will be key to agri-food sector’s future
14 Mar 2015
Source: Eastern Daily Press
By: Chris Hill
The Water for Agriculture Special Interest Group meeting at the The Boathouse Business Centre brought together researchers, processors, growers and utility companies.
As a limited and finite resource, delegates were told that future water supplies would be affected by climate change – predicted to bring drier summers and wetter winters – and an ever-increasing demand for food.
Keynote speaker was Inder Poonaji, head of sustainability at Nestlé, who said the group aimed to reduce water usage by 50pc at its 17 UK food factories by 2020 – including one at Wisbech.
“We have set some really stretching targets for water efficiency,” he said. “Measurement is at the heart of everything. If you don’t have really good measurements then you cannot make the improvements you need to make.
“We do a lot of engagement programmes with our employees – we get them all to go around the factory and look for water leaks. We saved £86,000 by doing that.”
Mr Poonaji said other efficiency measures ranged from major capital investments, to replacing a leaky pump seal that saved £15,000 in a year.
Martin Collison, agri-food sector lead for Greater Lincolnshire Local Enterprise Partnership, told delegates that the economic importance of the food chain had inspired government policy to increase the scale of the sector. To retain confidence in the region as a prime strategic location for these companies, he said it is vital to ensure a resilient water supply.
“We cannot just stay as we are,” he said. “The UK will have more mouths to feed and we import a lot, so there are a lot of drivers in the government for us to eat more British food. If we want more businesses like Nestlé to invest here we need to make sure the resources are available, and a critical one is water.”
Mr Collison said the UK’s agricultural water use is estimated at 180m cubic metres per year, 1.4pc of total water abstraction. “It is a large figure, but only a small percentage,” he said. “In total, about 3.5pc of all the water abstracted in the UK is for the food chain. There will be pressure on how that water is used, so the challenge is to focus on that and drive our efficiencies.”
Andy Brown, head of sustainability at Anglian Water, said the company was working with farmers, growers and processors to draw up future investment plans for infrastructure, storage and waste reduction.
“We cannot engineer our way out of this on our own,” he said. “We cannot just provide water to our customers. We are part of a cycle that agriculture, housing and tourism is all relying on. We all need to play our part in that.”
The event was hosted by Agri-Tech East’s Water for Agriculture Special Interest Group, in partnership with the UEA-based Agritech Water Cluster and Anglian Water.
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