Last summer’s unprecedented flooding is not going to prompt any significant change in Environment Agency policy with farmland.

Barbara Young, chief executive of the Agency said at a breakout session during the NFU Centenary Conference that last summer’s flash floods “were pretty amazing and was something that only happened once every 2-3 generations. So I don’t believe we should be making policy based on such an adverse and rare event.”

She hit back at critics who blamed the reduction in river dredging by Drainage Boards for the extensive flooding.

“Dredging was seen 20-30 years ago as a step to heaven. But dredging and bank clearance at one location can lead to more flooding elsewhere.

“We are looking at this and expect that some areas may need more dredging while others need less. Dredging is not a panacea.”

Farming: bottom of the list

NFU director general Richard McDonald said that the key issue with river flooding was priority. “Farming is bottom of the priorities list. Farming is always the last person to get any support.

Baroness Young explained that prioritisation on river flood defences was based on environmental need and economics. The calculation also takes the Single Farm Payment into account.

“Even with high commodity prices and land prices, farming does not compete with urban areas. The calculation rightly gives priority to housing.”

Looking at shoreline management plans, there is no doubt some areas will not be economic to protect and there will be a lot of local debate.

However, she reassured farmers: “I don’t believe we will see a huge loss of agricultural land in coastal areas.”