Flood fund still not open three months after Storm Henk

Frustration is mounting that a Defra fund designed to help farmers in England recover from winter flooding has yet to open, three months after it was first announced and despite the continuing heavy rainfall.

The Farming Recovery Fund was first unveiled on 6 January by communities secretary Michael Gove and Defra secretary Steve Barclay in the wake of Storm Henk.

See also: How two arable farmers repaired their flood-damaged soils

It is intended to help farmers who have suffered “uninsurable damage” with grants of up to £25,000 to return their land to the condition it was in before the flooding.

But with thousands of acres of agricultural land still submerged or waterlogged following the wettest 12 month period in 150 years, the Country Land and Business Association (CLA) is running out of patience.

CLA president Victoria Vyvyan said: “The impact of flooding on farm businesses up and down the country is profound, damaging infrastructure such as fencing and walls, contaminating soil and jeopardising environmental projects.

“Crops and livestock have been badly affected, and any reduction in domestic food production may lead to an increase in imports and prices.”

Somerset farmer Charlie Ainge said some of his arable fields had been under water for seven weeks, citing more intense rainfall and a lack of maintenance work by the Environment Agency as key factors.

“To still be under water in spring is unheard of,” he said. “Our whole arable operation is on hold because there’s nowhere to drill, and our flock costs have also doubled as we’ve had to buy in fodder for our sheep.”

Extreme weather impact

Defra insists that it is “acutely aware” of the impact extreme weather can have on the farming community.

“That is why we have protected more than 900,000 acres of agricultural land from the impacts of flooding since 2015, and why we are investing £5.6bn to better protect communities from flooding and coastal erosion,” said a spokesman.

More encouragingly, the spokesman added that the new Farming Recovery Fund would open “imminently”.

Eligible farmers will be contacted directly by the Rural Payments Agency, outlining the support available to them through the fund and how they can make a claim. 

Farmers are already eligible for support through the Flood Recovery Framework, including a grant of up to £2,500 as part of the Business Recovery Grant.   

Defra also points to flood risk mitigation options that are or will be available under the Sustainable Farming Incentive, Countryside Stewardship and Landscape Recovery.