The Environment Agency pledged a “total review” of all UK flood defences over the next six weeks, as farmers at the NFU’s annual conference took the opportunity of this week’s event to vent frustrations at how rural communities have suffered from the disastrous flooding events of recent weeks.
During an early meeting on Wednesday at the farming union’s summit in Birmingham, the NFU announced its new flooding manifesto which suggested that farmland and rural communities are too often sacrificed as the lowest priorities when water levels rise.
The Environment Agency’s director of flood and coastal risk management, David Rooke told delegates that the Agency, which has come in for significant criticism over river management policies during the disruptive flooding in the south of the country, would work with the NFU and adopt a ‘yes, if’, rather than a ‘no way’, mind-set.
Mr Rooke told farmers: “Yes we need to learn lessons, and we do need to be prepared for more winters like this. We need to utilise all methods of flood risk reduction, including dredging, desilting, repairing banks, slowing the flow, storing water and improvements further upstream. And we will continue to work closely with the NFU and its members.”
He added that 200 soldiers would be involved in the review of the condition of flood defences: “That will help inform decisions by government in terms of where we go in terms of maintenance.”
His reassurances came ahead of the start of a new £10m Farming Recovery Fund that the Government has set up to provide assistance to farmers who have suffered with uninsured losses in flood-hit areas. Farming Minister George Eustice revealed more details of the scheme at the conference and applications for funds opened yesterday.
Peter Kendall, presiding over the event as NFU president for the last time, set the tone for his successor Meurig Raymond’s term by calling on the Government to put agriculture at its heart and set its economic policies through the food security lens.
Mr Kendall said: “Farming has been delivering for Britain’s economy despite the challenges thrown at us over the past couple of years – heavy rain, drought, unseasonable snow and in recent weeks, we have all seen the impacts of flooding across the country and the challenges farmers have faced and sought to understand the impacts on our food supplies.
“We as an industry produce the raw materials for the biggest manufacturing sector in the economy, so trying to get people to understand our contribution to the whole economy is absolutely vital. We are growing businesses. We are creating jobs. If the Government is looking for a sector to kick-start growth and rebalance the economy then they should start by looking at agriculture. I believe any long-term economic plan for growth in the UK must include a long-term and strategic food plan.”
NFU election results
North Yorkshire farmer Rosey Dunn missed out on a seat at the NFU’s top table during the organisation’s elections this week, with Wiltshire’s Minette Batters appointed deputy president and Essex farmer Guy Smith as vice president.
The NFU’s new president Meurig Raymond said he was extremely proud to lead the organisation after eight years as deputy president and said the positive atmosphere at this week’s conference, which was attended by many young people, bodes well for the future of the industry.