As prolonged wet weather and flooding continues to seriously impact farming businesses in some parts of the country, the NFU is urging the next government and its agencies to develop long-term plans to mitigate future flood risk and better manage water.
Farmers, particularly across the East Midlands and north-east of England, are reporting the worst rainfall in living memory, which has left prime farmland badly affected, and thousands of acres under water.
According to the Met Office, rainfall in October was 109 per cent of the monthly average. It was a wet month over most of England and Wales, with some parts of eastern England, notably in Yorkshire, and the far South West having more than twice the normal rainfall.
The prolonged wet weather has impacted many growers who are unable to finish harvesting crops such as maize and potatoes.
NFU president Minette Batters said: “The rainfall that some parts of the country have been experiencing over the past few months underlines the vulnerability of farming businesses, the fragility of returns to farmers, their exposure to volatility and ultimately resulting in an impact on their bottom line.
“It’s why the next government and its agencies need to take water-related issues seriously. Some of our most productive and highest value agricultural land is vulnerable to flooding and deserves to be protected.
“Any future domestic agricultural policy must ensure there are measures in place for farm businesses to manage volatility, particularly in the face of increasingly unpredictable weather.”
The NFU president also called for “adequate” funding from the government to take on the “enormous challenge” of improving water management in the UK.
This will involve introducing measures “to maintain the conveyance and capacity of our rivers while at the same time seeking a more active role for some farms to trap, store and slow water,” she said, adding that breaches of flood embankments, like the recent incident at Wainfleet in Lincolnshire, “need to be looked at urgently”.
“The UK has £20bn of flood defence assets yet too little is being spent on upkeep – this spending must be increased,” she emphasized.
The NFU’s key policy demands on flooding are as follows:
Plan: More long-term planning to recognise the increased frequency of extreme weather events using local farmer and stakeholder knowledge
Protect: Government must recognise the importance and value of productive farmland considering wider benefits such as protecting and enhancing the environment and protecting infrastructure
Pay: Flooding and water management in river and coastal areas must be properly funded to protect urban and rural businesses, infrastructure and communities. Government spending must be transparent, and the artificial distinction between capital and maintenance expenditure must be removed.