After months of rain and desperate calls for help, Defra last week opened a new support fund to help farmers affected by flooding across the country

The Farming Recovery Fund was introduced to return agricultural land to pre-flood conditions, with grants of between £500 and £25,000 proposed for farmers affected by Storm Henk in January. While initially welcomed by the sector, closer inspection soon raised doubts the measure was adequate.

Neither the government nor the NFU have concrete figures on the scale of the impact of recent storms, but GB Potatoes CEO Scott Walker says there has been “little progress across most of the country in planting this year’s potato crop”, to take just one example.

East Anglia and Cornwall have fared better than most, with 50% and 25% potato planting rates respectively, but “we would have hoped to have had much more of the crop in the ground by now”.

Funding limits

The government’s fund was launched to “support farmers who suffered uninsurable damage” across the supply chain, according to farming minister Mark Spencer.

But it only covered victims of Storm Henk in 10 counties, and initially only agricultural land within 150m of government-specified rivers.

It rendered the fund “a well-intentioned development fundamentally let down in the detail”, said NFU vice president Rachel Hallos at the time.

Defra has since removed the 150m restriction but other requirements stand, leaving some hard-hit counties not covered, since it still only addresses flooding from certain rivers.

This, one source says, is Defra trying to control costs due to fear of the Treasury.

Yet “there are still many farm businesses in dire need of support”, says Hallos. “There are farmers with fields that have been underwater since October, unable to plant crops or put livestock out to graze, who still cannot access the fund, and the impact of the continuing rain on spring lambing is distressing.”

The NFU is urging the government to widen the fund to cover those suffering waterlogged ground caused by recent chronic rainfall.

One producer facing such challenges is John Charles-Jones, a Nottinghamshire-based cereals farmer, who says the compensation scheme is “cackhanded” and the government doesn’t “have a clue at all”.

Flooding to his land has come through heavy rain turning gullies into streams, causing significant soil erosion and destroying a culvert, making a quarter of his farmland inaccessible to machinery.

farm farming flood flooding

There has been ‘little progress across most of the country in planting this year’s potato crop’, says GB Potatoes CEO Scott Walker

Limiting the scheme to just Storm Henk is “complete nonsense” he adds, as “the damage we’ve got on the farm and many other farms is from a combination of one or other storms”.

He is also critical of the time taken for the scheme to launch. “Quite frankly, a five-year-old could have come up with [it] in five minutes, because it’s almost as though it has been designed to remove as many claimants as possible,” he says.

And the number of farmers in desperate need of such support is only expected to rise.

“This is getting really serious,” says a source. “It’s about straw shortages, not getting rid of slurry, cost of production not falling, mortality rates in sheep and outdoor pigs. It’s becoming an industry-wide crisis.

“If you overlay high production costs with falling output, it’s a really grim story.”

Defra has said it will continue to listen to farmers and look to expand the scheme. The fear for many is this may not come soon enough.

“We’ve got to find a way around it whether or not we get any government help, but some people will go to the wall over this,” says Charles-Jones.

Meanwhile, in the longer term, climate change calls for “a far bigger and bolder plan that doesn’t just deal with the problem now, but how we’re going to address it in future”, he adds.