Farmers’ fears as UK is battered by storms and flooding

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Last year saw flood alerts in place for Bedford and Central Bedfordshire with the continuing risk of the River Great Ouse, particularly at the Newport Pagnell to Roxton section. Although there are no flood warnings at the moment in the region, authorities are braced for further warnings, particularly those areas vulnerable to high water levels in the River Lee.

We’ve recently had storms Babet, Ciaran and Debi hitting the UK and causing widespread flooding. The agricultural sector in particular has felt the impact of these storms quite acutely and in the face of persistent storm threats, concerns are escalating within the farming communities about the future, and their increased exposure to disease.

First come the floods, then the disease

Flooding across farmland can kill livestock but, so can what’s in the water. Bedfordshire’s farm owners should be concerned about flooding not just because of the water rise itself but because the floods bring with them the increased threat of disease. International studies have shown an increased risk of Salmonella in livestock after flooding events, and as standing water is one of the biggest reservoirs for disease it is easy to see how, with a flooded water table and overworked drainage, domestic poultry will have ample opportunity to drink from contaminated water.

Farmers are concerned over increased risks of floodingFarmers are concerned over increased risks of flooding
Farmers are concerned over increased risks of flooding

The cost of clean-up

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Whilst insurers are still trying to establish the full cost to homes and businesses of these events, the cost to the nation’s already hard-pressed farms is sure to run into the many millions.

A spokesperson for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) stated: "We’re conscious of the impact Storm Babet and Ciaran will have had on the farming community, and the important role to play in reducing the risk of flooding and coastal erosion as we adapt to climate change."

This governmental concern is also reflected by farming representatives. National Farmers Union (NFU) Deputy President, Tom Bradshaw said of the flooding that: “Farming is on the front line of climate change and the sector is experiencing volatility and severe weather events more often. It’s why we absolutely need a long-term plan to improve how we manage water in times of flood and drought, as we regularly experience both on an annual basis, and both severely impact our ability to produce food.”

The NFU is currently demanding that the government strengthens its commitment to UK food security with firm action on water management. And fears of how this impacts farmers are shared across many industry groups, including the Country Land and Business Association (CLA), as they echo the NFU’s concerns.

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Regional Director of the CLA, Tim Bamford said: “Flooding can have a massive impact on farming and the countryside, with crops damaged and rural communities often cut off.

“Farmers want to provide solutions to the climate crisis. But until the Government steps in to tackle planning delays and offer full and proper compensation to those storing floodwater, farmers will continue paying the price for problems they didn’t create.”

Preparedness and careful planning

Julian Sparrey, Technical Director at Livetec Systems, the farming industry’s biosecurity experts, said that in preparing for heavy rainfall: “Any pool of water has the potential to carry viruses. Building maintenance is paramount. It's crucial to ensure that your structure is truly watertight, particularly in the vicinity of roof fans, as water infiltration can occur there, and ensuring that water cannot gain access through the walls and under cracks in doors.

One way to check your vulnerabilities to flooding is looking at areas where water pools, looking for moss on concrete and on the sides of sheds and ensuring you have measures in place to prevent flooding in these areas.”

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Biosecurity processes must also be followed too, according to Sparrey: “It is also critical to ensure that anyone entering sheds changes wet boots before entering a shed to prevent the introduction of rainwater. Taking extra biosecurity measures where there is a risk of flooding will be critical to preventing disease ingress through water."

For the nation’s beleaguered farmers, the rising concerns about floodwater-linked disease grow ever stronger, and they will be one group that is watching the weather reports very carefully this winter.