Hundreds of flood-hit farmers in parts of northern England are still waiting to receive emergency funds to bring their land back into production, almost a year to the day since Storm Desmond struck.
Yorkshire farmland was among the worst affected by the storm which caused severe flooding on December 4 last year. Intense rainfall also inundated farming communities across Cumbria, Lancashire, Northumberland, Yorkshire, County Durham and Greater Manchester.
On the eve of the first anniversary of the storm, the deputy president of the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) said many farmers had yet to receive reimbursements for repair work that was signed off for repayment under the Government’s Farming Recovery Fund.
As well as demanding the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) pays any outstanding invoices, Minette Batters called for an urgent review to ensure farmers are not left out of pocket again if the Fund is revived after future flooding disasters.
She said: “Storm Desmond and the subsequent flooding brought devastation to farming businesses and many are still feeling the effects.
“Farmers have faced months of uncertainty over access to the flood recovery fund, piled on top of delays to their annual farm payments. This is totally unacceptable and must be resolved as a matter of urgency.”
James Copeland, the NFU’s York-based regional environment and land use adviser, said: “There are still unpaid farmers in our region. Anybody who has submitted all the necessary information to the RPA and is suffering from delayed payments, we are asking the RPA to pay them.
“We are also calling for all farmers who still have outstanding paperwork relating to their claims to make sure they submit that as soon as possible.”
Around 1,100 applications were made to the Farming Recovery Fund, resulting in claims worth more than £9m to cover the costs of reseeding and drain and boundary repairs.
According to the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs the Government has invested £250m to help communities recover from last winter’s floods and EU rules mean it must see invoices for work before any payments are made to farmers from the Farm Recovery Fund.
But Ms Batters said she was frustrated that the turnaround of payments had been slower in England than elsewhere.
She said: “Scotland and Northern Ireland had their farming recovery funds done and dusted by the middle of 2016. So why are so many farmers in England being forced to wait for their emergency funding?
“The RPA created some delays when processing the original applications. But we appreciate that they are still waiting to receive claims from affected farmers partly due to the high level of evidence farmers are required to submit.”
The union chief said it was “extremely frustrating” many farmers are bracing themselves for another winter while waiting for funds to help their recovery from last year’s punishing weather.
“A review is urgently needed to improve the process for when this fund is inevitably needed again,” she said.
The NFU will soon launch a flooding manifesto setting out how it believes government policy can help mitigate flood risk.
Ms Batters called for a whole catchment approach, saying that flood resilience can only be improved with accurate modelling and suitable funding.