UK – Forage aid initiatives are serving as a short term lifeline for south of England farmers after the wettest January since 1766 has submerged thousands of acres under water.
Incessant rain through February has caused forage shortages and equipment failure for livestock and crop farmers, some of whom have had swathes of land out of production since Christmas.
Somerset and Thames valley areas have benefited from free feed and machinery donations trucked in from as far afield as Yorkshire.
Trailer loads of straw, silage, haylage and feed beet donations have been heading south and west, many to Sedgemoor Livestock Market and Cannington in Somerset.
According to National Farmers Union (NFU) member Alastair Hunter Blair, this shows the resilience of the farming community.
He said: “When something goes wrong we can all support one another – there is no industry in the world that would rally to help like this.”
Mr Blair, who currently has 150 acres under four feet of water, has donated 32 haylage bales and is now coordinating other trailer loads from Hertfordshire.
“I know that if the roles were reversed then people would help me,” he added. “I have excess forage this year, I’d rather send it to someone who needs it than keep it.”
However, the NFU is now urging willing farmers to coordinate donations so forage is available over the coming weeks.
With so much being shipped, storage is an issue and the flooding could last months.
Some communications are being directed via twitter through #forageaid which was founded by Lincolnshire farmer Andrew Ward last year when snow around lambing time stretched feed supplies on upland livestock farms.
Assisted by contracting, haulage and farm businesses, as well as ASDA and Tesco, the support is invaluable, said NFU south west regional director Melanie Squires.
But, she added: “The implications of the floods are not just immediate but medium to long-term, too.
“We will continue to support our members by coordinating aid and providing advice, in partnership with those on the ground, and the respective farm care charities.”
Another twitter discussion thread - AgriChatUK - meets tonight from 8-10pm (Thursday 13 February) allowing the current situation and possible solutions to be explored.
This is the purpose of the Somerset Levels and Moors 20 year action plan, a document outlining action points to minimise damage and prevent future flooding.
Owen Paterson, UK Environment Secretary asked for a single overarching plan to guide policy in the Somerset Levels and Moors which has to be submitted by 7 March.
‘Dredging the rivers’ has been placed at the top of a list of proposals submitted by regional drainage, flood action and wildlife groups.
Action points include soil management, creating new wetlands areas, woodland planting, creating new farm ponds and adapting flood plain farming. These are believed to be ways to reduce the risk and impact of flooding.
Additionally, temporary financial relief has been given to farms on mortgage, cash flow and tax.
Mortgage repayment holidays, faster cash loan access and overdraft extensions are measures made available to flood victims by HSBC, Lloyds Banking Group, RBS, Barclays and NatWest.
NFU chief economist described the support for famers as ‘overwhelming’.
HM Revenue and Customs is working hard to reach agreements with flood-hit victims trying to find lost or damaged records, suspend debt collection and cancel penalties.
Yesterday, (Wednesday) the government announced a £10 million waterlogging restoration fund to get farmers back in production as quickly as possible.
Prime Minister David Cameron also pledged £5,000 repair and renewal grants and 100 per cent business tax relief for flood victims. The government also called on major banks to stump up £750 million in financial support.
The extent of the flooding has warranted a discussion around safeguarding against UK food shortages amid extreme weather event.
National Farmers Union President Peter Kendall met with the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee on food security in which Peter Kendall told ministers that policy must support food production.
Go to our previous news item on the English floods by clicking here.
Photos courtesy of the NFU