The cost of flooding for farmers could rise to £100m with as many as 50,000ha of farmland affected, according to the NFU.
NFU head of policy services Andrew Clarke revealed the eye-watering figures during a breakout session on flooding at the NFU conference on Wednesday (26 February).
He told delegates that the impact of the winter floods on farming, lives and communities had been “absolutely massive”.
“The NFU, government and the Environment Agency have got to take lessons from this winter’s floods and we’ve got to manage for similar events in the future,” he added.
Mr Clarke said river floods and coastal storm surges have been increasing over the last decade in the UK, notwithstanding the recent floods on the Somerset Levels and the Thames.
Based on similar flooding events in 2007 and 2012, there will likely be up to 50,000ha of farmland impacted by this winter’s storms. And even a “modest assessment” of the costs could be between £50-100m, Mr Clarke said.
More on this: See all our flooding news including photos and video
The NFU believes that farmland and rural communities are too often being sacrificed as the lowest priority in managing the nation’s floods and that continued unmanaged, and uncompensated, flooding removes farmers’ ability to earn a sustainable living.
During the workshop, the NFU launched its own flooding manifesto, which called for a fundamental rethink of government flooding policy in consideration of four key themes: recognise the value of agriculture and our rural communities, increase funding targeted at maintenance and delivery, find easier ways to maintain watercourses and flood defences and reduce the impacts of urban areas.
During the debate, David Rooke, the Environment Agency’s executive director of flood and coastal risk management, admitted that funding for floods was often an issue, as it is for other government departments.
He defended the Environment Agency’s response to the floods crisis and said flood defences had protected about was 1.4m properties and 2,500km of farmland since the beginning of December.
The agency had undertaken its biggest ever pumping operation to remove water from the flooded Somerset Levels, using Dutch pumps, and it was “making a difference” as water levels were falling.
He also revealed that 200 soldiers are being trained to undertake a comprehensive review of all the flood defences in England and report back to the igovernment.
But Mr Rooke came under fire from furious farmers who criticised the agency for its reponse to flooding.
Cumbrian sheep farmer John Geldard accused the agency of “putting birds before people”.
And outgoing NFU president Peter Kendall urged the government to review how environmental restrictions placed on farmers restrict them from managing watercourses.