The UK is facing the prospect of a drought being declared in August, experts have said, warning of potential crop failures after a period of remarkably dry weather and extreme heat.
Hosepipe bans for households could be brought in across the UK and farmers could be restricted from irrigating their crops if the government implements a drought plan.
On Tuesday, the National Drought Group, made up of government departments and affected groups, will meet to discuss a strategy to deal with the very dry conditions faced by the UK.
The meeting had been supposed to take place in October to plan for 2023, but conditions have become so dry that it has been brought forward.
Last week’s record-breaking heatwave baked the soil, leading farmers to increase irrigation for crops and increasing the rate of evaporation from waterways.
Farmers could be banned from watering their crops in the crucial period of August and September, with root vegetables such as potatoes under particular threat. Crops could fail through lack of water, and dry soil can make harvesting difficult.
Minette Batters, the president of the National Farmers’ Union, said: “We don’t have time to waste. The situation with water is very, very serious for growers – there are implications for costs and crop viability.”
Growers could face huge costs if their crop yields fall owing to the dry conditions, and many have already signed contracts with supermarkets and other suppliers, meaning they may have to shoulder these costs alone.
Batters said: “Who is going to be paying these extra costs? Everybody in the supply chain, retailers, have to make sure they pick up the tab for rising costs. Growers have already signed their contracts with supermarkets. It needs others in the chain to come and take these extra costs into account.”
Experts from the Met Office and Environment Agency are preparing for further heatwaves this summer as the weather is still very hot in Europe, and it is possible this could move up to the UK.
On the continent, droughts have already been announced, with Italy declaring a water security emergency and Spain and Portugal facing pressure.
“This really does highlight the futility of just relying on imports; other European countries are in far worse situations than we are,” Batters said. “We have taken our water supply for granted in this country for so long. We are not storing and moving water in the way that we should be. Water security and food security are inextricably linked and food security is incredibly important. We can’t see growers not having a viable crop.”
The most recent two droughts in the UK were declared in 2018 and 2011, but the extremely dry conditions and hot weather mean the government is preparing for a worse outcome this year.