2012 was one of the wettest years yet with extensive rainfall across the UK; tens of thousands of hectares of farmland were negatively affected by the excessive downpour. In 2007 the summer floods are estimated to have caused £50 million worth of farming damage, impacting 42,000 ha. The full extent of the detrimental affects of the 2012 flooding have not been fully assessed however many farmers have lost thousands, if not tens of thousands, of pounds worth of crops.
Flooding and wet weather are so costly to agricultural land because they cause delays in and reduction of crop harvest. William Morfoot, specialists in agricultural land drainage, are well aware of the necessity of farming land having the optimum amount of saturation to successfully yield crops. If soil is too wet it can result in poor conditions for the crops to grow; when soil is well drained then the oxygen, nutrients and trace elements that the plant needs are available. If the soil is too damp, the field’s yield is potential severely reduced.
Hundreds of acres of farmland were recently flooded in the storm and extreme tidal surge at the start of this month – it seems this trend of extremely wet weather may not be letting up any time soon. Research from both the Met Office and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change suggests that rainfall is becoming more extreme in the UK and this will continue in years to come.
Officials are aware of the detrimental impact of flooding after a recent report by the Environmental Food and Rural Affair’s Committee. DEFRA has responded by insisting that flood management is still a high priority. Within the space of six years (between April 2015 and March 2021), it will implement a new strategy with over £2.3 billion invested in capital. This will theoretically enable DEFRA to lower the likelihood of flooding for another 300,000 homes. Furthermore the budget for the next couple years allows for a further 165,000 households to be protected in the near future.
However, the National Farmers Union (NFU) has recently criticised DEFRA’s strategy due to recent cuts and a lack of consideration to flooding in rural areas. The Environment Agency’s (EA) reduction in funding for watercourse maintenance means that there is a higher chance of flooding in rural areas. For instance, Yorkshire farmers have complained that their livelihoods are at risk because maintenance will stop on the River Swale and Ure due of lack of EA funding. The concern is this will significantly increase chance of farmland flooding and severely impact business.
Meurig Raymond, the Deputy President of the NFU commented that, “In its response, DEFRA emphasised the £5 million extra funding for maintenance work in 2015-16. However, it has neglected to mention the £45 million worth of cuts to the Environment Agency’s (EA) revenue budget since 2010.
“The NFU believes this will seriously undermine its ability to maintain waterways which, crucially, will only have £20 million spent on maintenance, a figure that should be substantially higher and is not enough to do the job effectively.”
“While we welcomed the river maintenance pilots announced by the Secretary of State this week, we feel the department must address the strategic long term investment needed not just to build new defences, but to maintain our waterways to reduce the risk of flooding in a changing climate.”
DEFRA responded to this criticism by saying that, “We strongly disagree that DEFRA is failing to protect rural areas from the risk of flooding… more than 95% of the arable land in England is either outside areas at risk of flooding from rivers or the sea or is in areas benefiting from a greater than 1:75 standard of defence… While rural areas can be badly affected by flooding, analysis suggests that the overall exposure of the agricultural sector to flood risk is not disproportionate to other parts of the economy.”
It remains to be seen whether DEFRA’s plans will adequately safeguard rural areas and farmland from flooding. But with heavy rainfall predicted and the NFU’s warnings about the cuts to waterway maintenance there is the potential for another difficult year in agriculture.