Flood funding

Written evidence submitted by the NFU


1. The NFU represents more than 55,000 farming members in England and Wales. In addition we have 41,000 countryside members with an interest in farming and the country. The NFU welcomes the opportunity to make a submission to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee on its inquiry into flood defences.

2. Despite the exceptionally dry start to last year, record rainfall from April brought the drought to a rapid conclusion, and 2012 was officially one of the wettest on record.

3. The unprecedented rainfall brought flooding to many parts of the country, with tens of thousands of hectares of farmland being affected, some for extended periods of time.

4. Flood management issues are a priority issue for the NFU; we held a water management summit with members in December 2012 and Paul Leinster and David Rooke, Environment Agency’s Chief Executive and Director of Flood Risk Management, attended NFU Council in January 2013 to talk about the Agency’s roles and responsibilities on flood issues.

5. The Environment Agency has offered to work in partnership with the NFU on flood management issues. We have accepted this offer but we need a long-term commitment and honest and constructive dialogue.

6. Critical issues for the farming sector include:-

· The Environment Agency and Defra must invest more funding into maintenance budgets ;

· Farmers who are willing to maintain their own watercourses must be enabled via the appropriate regimes;

· Defra policy must re-balance the weighting for flood defence spending to give greater consideration to high value farmland; and

· Productive agricultural land must be properly valued to reflect its long-term value to society.

7. We give further thought to each of these points in our submission below.

Risk of flooding to agricultural land

8. A recent Defra and Environment Agency study identified that some of our highest quality agricultural land is vulnerable to flooding:- 13% of the best and most versatile agricultural land is in the floodplain, but some 58% of grade 1 land, our most productive farmland, in England is within the floodplain [1] .

Impact of the 2012 floods

9. The extent of the impact of the 2012 floods on agricultural land is hard to quantity, but we can say with some certainty that tens of thousands of hectares of farmland have been affected, some for extended periods of time. The Somerset Levels and Moors, areas around the Hampshire Avon, parts of the Thames Valley, areas in West Lancashire and, more recently, the North East of the country have been badly affected.

10. At NFU’s Council meeting in January 2013, the Environment Agency reported that over a 2 day period of 28-30th November 2012 an estimated 43,000 ha of agricultural land were affected by flooding. (The estimated extent of the summer floods in 2007 was 42,000 ha, with the agricultural damage amounting to some £50 million [2] .) 

11. The costs of the 2012 floods to agriculture are even harder to estimate, but the wet weather last year caused delays to the harvesting of crops and to autumn cultivations. It is also impacting on the availability of feed this winter and it is also anticipated to have knock on effects going into 2013’s new cropping year.

12. One study estimated that the agricultural and agri-environment costs of the spring flooding on the Somerset Levels and Moors (5,000 ha) was at least £2 million pounds [3] . However, this figure does not take the more recent floods on the Levels and Moors into account.

13. Although we do not have any comprehensive costs of the 2012 floods to agriculture in England, we know that many farmers have lost thousands of pounds worth of crops and some others have lost tens of thousands of pounds.

14. With fields already at field capacity, any additional rainfall is likely to lead to more waterlogging and additional flooding. The impacts may be felt, we believe, well into 2013.

Environment Agency funding for channel maintenance

15. Whilst the Autumn Statement brought an additional £120M for capital spend projects in flood defence [4] , we noted that the majority of this funding will be allocated to urban flood defence, which can only increase the risk and severity of flooding in adjacent rural areas and that no additional funding was made available to address chronic underfunding of maintenance work (via revenue funds). Further, we noted from the Environment Agency’s presentation to NFU Council that it anticipated that that would have some £49M less to spend over the next few years on essential activities, such as maintenance. Finally, it became very clear to us that only £20M a year (of an approximate £250M revenue budget) is actually spent on river channel maintenance in England – a tiny proportion of the Agency’s overall maintenance budget (for comparison £11M is allocated to annual operation of the Thames Barrier).

16. There is no doubt in our members’ minds that the extent of the problem with flooding on agricultural land that we are currently experiencing is as a result of, not just of the recent cuts to funding for maintenance activities, but reductions over a number of years.

17. If there was to be a significant increase in maintenance of watercourses then our existing network of drains, pumps and ditches would work more effectively to convey water rather than "slow the flow" and therefore cause widespread and prolonged flooding. There is is an urgent need to reverse the decline in spending for essential river maintenance.

Farmer maintenance of watercourses

18. In some cases, and as reported strongly at the NFU Council meeting in January 2013, farmers can be willing to maintain their own watercourses but are often prevented from doing so by the Environment Agency - in order to protect habitats or biodiversity - or they find the Environment Agency’s licensing regime difficult to navigate.

19. We believe that there is a clear need to re-look at the Environment Agency consenting regime to reduce to reduce the administrative burden and streamline the process for those who would like to maintain their own watercourses. Guidelines must make it easier, not more difficult, for farmers to undertake their own maintenance. 

Government priorities  

20. Government announced its plans for funding arrangements for new flood defence schemes in February 2012. The new arrangements result in funding to be allocated towards those areas offering the highest unit area return - meaning that rural areas, especially those without statutory designation, have low weighting for additional protection. The consequences are that England’s most fertile farmland, best and most versatile land grades 1, 2 and 3a, is at increasing risk of flooding.

21. At the Oxford Farming Conference in January 2013, the Secretary of State reported that in 2011/2012 some 60 capital projects improved protection to some 74,000 ha of agricultural land, but these were largely approved to protect people, property and habitats – the benefits to agriculture are small and are incidental.

22. The current approaches mean that the sector responsible for managing three quarters of the land area will receive little national funding to help defend it against flooding.  This goes against a number of current policy signals to governments, globally and domestically, to protect our capacity to produce food.

23. We believe that Defra must take full consideration of high value agricultural land as an outcome measure in any flood risk management strategy, as well as considering people, property and habitats. However, what is unclear is whether Defra is able or willing to adopt a target for protecting the UK’s best and most versatile agricultural land from repeated flooding - at present rural areas are not protected to the same extent as other areas.  

Valuation of agricultural land

24. In addition to our concerns about the lack of an outcome measure for high value farmland, the NFU has also long made the case to Defra and the Environment Agency that the approach currently used to value farm land means that the benefits of its protection are not fairly reflected in any assessment to allocate flood defence funding. This is because of the narrow application of the Treasury’s ‘multi-coloured manual’, which the Environment Agency uses for Flood Risk Management valuation purposes. This results in a valuation related solely to its land classification value. This is a very complex area of economics but suffice it to say, the result in our view is a significant undervaluation of farmed land and of domestic food production to society.

25. The NFU therefore believe there is an urgent need to review the multi-coloured manual to ensure that farmland is properly valued in terms of its long term value to society rather the present situation where a discounted market value is applied (based on the core assumption that the Single Payment Scheme will go on indefinitely).  Critically, consideration must be given to the future value of production. 

January 2013

[1] Developing the Evidence Base to Describe the Flood and Coastal Erosion Risk to Agricultural Land Use in England and Wales - FD2634 http://randd.defra.gov.uk/Default.aspx?Menu=Menu&Module=More&Location=None&Completed=2&ProjectID=16952

[2] Agricultural damage caused by the summer 2007 floods in England, Cranfield University http://www.cranfield.ac.uk/sas/naturalresources/research/projects/floods2007.html

[3] Impact of the Spring 2012 Floods on Agriculture in the Somerset Moors, Report to Somerset Drainage Boards

[3] Consortium, Jo Morris, June 2012.

[4] £120 million boost to flood defences will protect homes and businesses and help drive growth

[4] http://www.defra.gov.uk/news/2012/11/30/120-million-boost-to-flood-defences-will-protect-homes-and-businesses-and-help-drive-growth/

Prepared 18th February 2013