HELL AND HIGH WATER: The impact of flooding on Lincolnshire’s farmers

Bishopbridge was flooded again last week after heavy rainfall in the area. Picture: Julian Anyan.
Bishopbridge was flooded again last week after heavy rainfall in the area. Picture: Julian Anyan.

Consumers in Lincolnshire have been warned of a potential hike in food prices and possible shortages as the county’s farmers count the cost of crippling floods.

Thousands of acres of fertile farmland have been left under water following one of the wettest October and November on record.

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No Caption ABCDE EMN-191125-094856001

With farmers still struggling to get onto waterlogged fields, there are fears staple vegetables like potatoes, sprouts, broccoli, cabbages and cauliflowers could be in short supply for already hard-up families at Christmas.

And, it is not just the short-term effects of flooding that could have an impact on household budgets.

John Smith - one of the county’s leading wheat and barley farmers - says he has only managed to plant around 10 per cent of next year’s crop.

While this year’s harvest is safely stored away, Mr Smith warns there could be a shortage of wheat and barley this time next year.

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He said: “I’ve been in this industry for more than 40 years and I have never experienced anything like the last few weeks.

“We won’t be able to do anything on our land until February and we’re not as badly affected as a lot of farms.

“Every farmer is saying the same - and winter hasn’t even started!”

Mr Smith’s warning was echoed by leading industry expert Andrew Wilson, an agent with NFU Mutual who works with farmers across the county.

Soaked... Jo, who works in the animal care team. EMN-191118-134647001

Soaked... Jo, who works in the animal care team. EMN-191118-134647001

Mr Wilson believes it is inevitable prices will rise and he played down the option of more imports because farmers in Europe, Australia and America are suffering their own ‘climate’ issues.

Mr Wilson revealed Brexit was another worrying factor with every chance imports from Europe will face an added tariff of up to 40 per cent.

While Mr Wilson sympathised with consumers, he also revealed concerns about the wellbeing of farmers.

Farming has one of the highest suicide levels of any industry in the country.

Bransby Horses has been badly affected by recent floods. EMN-191211-103210001

Bransby Horses has been badly affected by recent floods. EMN-191211-103210001

Mr Wilson said many farmers were already struggling financially, before the impact of the floods.

He explained most farmers had incurred ‘substantial costs’ planting, fertilising and reducing crops which had been ruined.

He said: “The mental health of a lot of farmers is a big concern. They are going to be worrying how they are going to pay their bills.”

Mr Wilson said there were particular concerns about this year’s potato crop with Lincolnshire one of the biggest areas of production in the UK.

He confirmed some farmers reported their crops had been ‘decimated’ while others admitted potatoes were ‘left rotting in waterlogged ground.’

Mr Wilson added: “Some farmers managed to get their potatoes and other vegetables’ harvested before the flooding.

“On going, it is difficult to say what the impact might be because no-one knows what the weather will be like although forecasts aren’t promising.”

Mr Wilson said he thought brassica crops - like sprouts - would not be as badly hit as some reports suggested.

He described potatoes as ‘more of a concern’ and warned a shortage could lead to a hike in the price of staples like chips and crisps.

Farmers can plant arable crops in February but the cost of winter seed has already increased.

The yield on crops planted in the winter is much lower, adding to the financial pressure.

It is understood flooding could also have badly affected sugar beet and oil seed rape crops.

The cost of animal feed has also increased, sparking a likely rise in meat prices.

Mr Wilson added: “It is all about supply and demand. We’ve already seen prices start to increase.

“People are realising how serious the situation is. It could take the industry years to recover.”

• “It is difficult to see a light at the end of the tunnel.”

‘You try to be positive but it’s difficult when you lie in bed every night and listen to the rain hammering against the window.’

Those are the words of one Lincolnshire farmer who admitted he does not know how he will get through the winter.

He confirmed he was already ‘thousands in debt’ - before the wet weather wiped out some of this year’s crops.

He added: “We invested a small fortune (this year) and we’re looking forward to a decent crop.

“But this year is worse than ever - and that’s saying something.

“You try to be optimistic but it is difficult to see a light at the end of the tunnel.

“Farming has been in the family for years but I don’t know how we will carry on.

“We’ll talk to the bank - again - but there’s only so much you can do.”

• Farmers accuse Environment Agency of not doing enough to protect their land.

Many farmers have criticised the Environment Agency for not doing enough to protect their land.

In some cases, the Agency has even been accused of deliberately flooding agricultural land to protect towns and villages.

An example is the Ward family at Short Ferry, near Bardney. They had to use boats to get around after their 250-acre farm was submerged by 10 feet of water after the river Barlings Eau burst its banks.

The family says they understand the need to protect communities but add it could be 10 years before their land fully recovers, and no-one is prepared to talk about compensation.

The Environment Agency has defended its overall response and said staff had done everything they could.

A spokesman said: “Prolonged heavy rainfall since the beginning of September has saturated the ground and filled the rivers.

“Last week’s additional slow and heavy-moving rain meant many rivers reached their capacity.

“We know the devastating impact flooding can have, which is why protecting people continues to be our top priority.

“We continue to liaise closely with the NFU and internal drainage boards to offer support and advice to farmers affected by flooding.”

On the positive side, an £84m defence scheme has prevented market towns like Horncastle and Market Weighton from flooding.

The scheme involves holding excess river water back and allowing it to flood adjoining farm land. Farmers, though, are paid compensation.

Farmers’ union officials are calling for more Government cash to be invested in defences, with one claiming Prime Minister Boris Johnson was ‘out of touch’ with how serious the situation is.

The Environment Agency has defended its response to the flooding and said its staff had done everything they could.

A spokesman said: “Prolonged heavy rainfall since the beginning of September has saturated the ground and filled the rivers.

“Last week’s additional slow and heavy-moving rain meant many rivers reached their capacity. We know the devastating impact flooding can have, which is why protecting people continues to be our top priority.

“We continue to liaise closely with the NFU and internal drainage boards to offer support and advice to farmers affected by flooding.”