June 25, 2008

‘After Last Year’s Floods, My Farm is Once Again Looking Rosy’

When livestock farmer John Lund moved to East Yorkshire, everything in his fields looked rosy.

He and his partner had bought a bigger farm to expand their cattle herd and sheep flock and secure a future for their 15-year- old son.

But two years to the day after they first viewed Coneygarth Hill Farm at Emmotland, near Driffield, the region was hit by a devastating downpour.

On Monday, June 25 last year, Mr Lund and his family watched helplessly as floodwater swamped 146 of their 200 acres near the River Hull.

A ewe and its lamb drowned in the unprecedented deluge and two beef cows died from the stress of having to be moved quickly to safety in the emergency.

If you ask him today how things are, he can report the farm looks rosy again, but the effects of the summer floods are still being felt in their business.

Coneygarth Hill Farm was one of the worst-hit in East Yorkshire, and the disaster cost Mr Lund, 42, and his partner Tracey Atkinson, 35, more than pounds30,000.

He said: "It was heartbreaking to see the devastation after all the hard work we had put in to make our new farm a success.

"There was nothing we could do as the floodwater rose to more than 4ft deep. I remember our immediate concern was for the safety of our 650 sheep and 80 beef cows and calves.

"The flooding was so bad that all our stock, except for 40 cows that we could keep indoors, had to be moved to pastures on the higher Wolds.

"One farmer at Fridaythorpe was a real good Samaritan and let us have grazing land for nothing, for which we are eternally grateful."

Mr Lund and his family, who had moved to East Yorkshire from a smaller farm at Cleckheaton, near Bradford, were left struggling financially.

They received pounds2,000 from regional development agency Yorkshire Forward's small businesses compensation fund and pounds1,000 from farming charity the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution.

Mr Lund said: "As if the flooding was not bad enough, we faced a double whammy in September when foot and mouth disease led to the collapse of sheep prices.

"I have never accepted charity in my life before, but with no income coming in, the two grants did help us meet our day-to-day living expenses.

"I have also gone back to driving a lorry to help supplement our income until we get back on our feet again."

Mr Lund has also had to face the expense of re-seeding 70 acres of grassland and patching up another 40 acres.

The move means although he can feed his livestock, there will be no surplus grass to make hay to sell, which was an important part of the farm's income.

He said: "Farming is a long-term business and we are feeling the effects of the disaster one year on, but farmers are resilient people and we will survive.

"We moved to this farm to secure a future for the next generation, our son Thomas, but as farmers we also have a duty to feed the nation."

Thousands of acres of East Yorkshire farmland were flooded, wiping out crops such as peas and potatoes and causing millions of pounds of damage.

Farmers such as Mr Lund were highly critical of the Environment Agency for not spending enough on dredging watercourses, such as the River Hull, which burst its banks.

The National Farmers' Union (NFU) also hit out at the agency and Natural England's proposals to create more wetlands out of farmland to contain flooding in the future.

Some of East Yorkshire's most productive agricultural land is on flood plains - land that is managed through an extensive network of drainage ditches developed hundreds of years ago.

Driffield farmer Paul Temple, NFU vice-chairman, said the Government must increase spending on the maintenance of waterways.

He said: "The focus should be on rivers such as the River Hull to carry away the flood waters, rather than taking land needed for growing food.

"The impact of prolonged flooding doesn't impact on farmers alone, but also on consumers, through rising food prices.

"Agricultural land can be used to store water, but it is a non- starter to expect farmers to cope with the kind of conditions we saw last summer."

Farmers say the key is a firm commitment by the Environment Agency and Natural England to maintain the rivers and to carry out dredging operations.

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