A major rethink is needed on how government money is used to prevent farmland from flooding in the future, says NFU president Peter Kendall.
In his final speech as president to the NFU Conference 2014, Mr Kendall said flooding was no longer a DEFRA issue, but a national issue that affected all farmers.
“If these last months have taught us anything it’s that more and more land will end up under water more and more often if we don’t change how we allocate flood defence spending and how much we allocate,” he warned.
“I recognise that there is tension there, but we need a major re-think.”
Mr Kendall said farmers affected by flooding – those with grass and other crops under tonnes of dirty water, livestock evacuated or lost, sewage all over their houses and yards – were relying on the NFU to “fight their corner”.
The NFU is “truly appreciative” of the £10m that the government has given to farmers who have been hit to help flood-hit farmers like Somerset livestock farmer James Winslade, Mr Kendall added.
See also: Flooding news
But he urged the government to increase its floods budgets and review the balance between capital works and routine maintenance.
He said the government must find ways to unblock red tape around landowners carrying out their own maintenance – keeping vegetation cut back and clearing silt from rivers.
He welcomed the introduction of river maintenance pilots that the government launched last October in England.
“Surely that’s now got to happen on a massive scale across the country,” he told delegates.
Currently, the UK produces 62% of our own food and he warned that our own self-sufficiency in food production has “shifted massively into reverse” – down from 78%, 30 years ago.
The UK population is set to increase by four million to over 67 million by 2020, but 58% of our most productive land sits below the 5m contour line and is “of risk of flooding”.
Therefore, Mr Kendall said we simply could not afford to have “swathes of land out of production”.
Farmland should not be viewed as a “long-term storage facility” and should, in extreme circumstances, act as a “temporary buffer for water to protect people’s lives and homes”. But its primary job is to “feed the country”, Mr Kendall said.
“We must stop sacrificing our productive farmland to crazy, rampant and thoughtless urbanisation,” he added.
On bovine TB, Mr Kendall thanked 32 areas that have so far come forward to express their interest in rolling out the badger cull on a wider scale.
“We need to build on the experience of the pilots and make sure, above all, that we simplify the process,” he said.
Commenting on the new CAP regime, Mr Kendall branded the three-crop rule “utter madness”.
See also: CAP news
“It is not going to add one jot to food security in England and Wales,” he said.
Finally, Mr Kendall stressed the need for a long-term economic plan for growth, that must include a long-term, strategic, food plan.