The impact of flooding on farms in Lincolnshire would be half their current levels had the Environment Agency taken more proactive action, a grower has said.
The government body’s failure to sufficiently lower the level of the River Witham had a direct impact on the severity of floods around cereal farmer Henry Moreton’s farm in Fiskerton near Newark, he claimed.
Moreton, who is also the NFU’s county vice chairman for Lincolnshire, saw 150 acres of his land flooded last week following Storm Babet, with some areas under as much as 15 feet of water.
He said the local area had seen just 87ml of rainfall but the river’s main drain had breached, causing significant flooding to his land.
The Environment Agency could control the river height to about two inches as water could be let out in Boston, he said, and “they’re normally very good at it”.
“But they just didn’t lower the river levels when they knew Storm Babet was coming because apparently they weren’t having a meeting till the end of the month, so they couldn’t, which just makes you want to cry,” he said.
Had the agency lowered the river, Moreton said his farm “would have had a fighting chance” and it could have halved the size of the flooding.
With the current situation, he has lost 30% of his crops and the land will likely take until February to dry out and be useable again.
“It’s not fair when I pay drainage rates and we all as farmers in the area know that River Witham is the lifeline of this whole area,” he added, saying he believed around 100 other farmers were in the same situation.
These issues with flooding are expected to cause supply challenges well into the new year with “the back end of the broccoli season just completely underwater,” and other overwintered crops including carrots and brassicas also likely to be affected, according to Jack Ward, CEO of the British Growers Association.
Ward added that the volume of water many growers were facing could “destroy the structure” of the soil alongside the “potential for a lot of runoff”.
“This has the potential to affect crops in 2024 which need to be planted as we move into 2024 so it compounds and when margins are so slim in these crops, you really don’t need too many crop failures,” he said.
Moreton has called for the EA to hand control of these river systems to local drainage authorities as they “understand where the water flows, while the EA seem to be sitting in an office somewhere and don’t care”.
“God’s got a purpose, the EA haven’t at the moment” Moreton said, adding that he thought the government body was “disconnected” with “no joined-up thinking”.
“We can’t keep rolling the dice like this, we need to be proactive,” Moreton added, as “we’re the ones paying the bills at the end of the day”.
Moreton said he had not yet heard from the EA directly. However, The Grocer understands an EA team conducted an assessment of the River Witham area on Wednesday 25 October to understand the extent of the situation and it has a presence at Fiskerton Hall to provide updates to the community.
The NFU has aso penned an open letter to call for the EA to deliver a proactive plan for the watercourses and flood defences it manages, as well as for government to pay farmers and growers fairly for the role they play in protecting homes and business when rivers breach their banks.
The farming union has also called for changes to the Flood Defence Grant in Aid cost-benefit analysis to ensure that rural communities are not disadvantaged by the nature of the smaller populations in comparison to urban communities.
“I have been out to meet NFU members and have seen first-hand the destruction and financial stress caused by flooding to farmers’ businesses and their homes,” said NFU deputy president Tom Bradshaw. “Despite promises made during each catastrophic flooding event, repeated governments of all parties have failed to get to grips with the challenge of managing watercourses and flooding. With another storm forecast this week, we need to see plans come forward as a matter of urgency.”
Bradshaw explained that there were tangible things which could be done to adapt including maintaining existing flood defences and paying farmers for the “public good they provide by holding floodwater on their land”.
“Our sympathies are with those farmers that have been affected by flooding during Storm Babet,” said an EA spokeswoman. “Our teams are working at pace on the ground and we are monitoring the impacts on the agricultural sector, particularly near the River Witham to understand the extent of the situation.
“The recently announced £25m of funding through the Natural Flood Management programme will allow farmers and land managers to play an important role in reducing the risk of flooding in local areas,” she added.
This follows calls from the NFU last week to the government to invest in better water management systems to protect farmland from flooding and to improve water storage.