The flooding currently affecting the United Kingdom has, in parts, changed the landscape of our island forever. Some areas, notably the Somerset Levels should in time return to a state of normality depending on the efficiency of the Environment Agency’s sixty five pumps removing over a million tonnes of flood water. Whether normality will be maintained in the future is another question.
News agencies have been covering the events in Somerset with fervent curiosity, relaying the stories of island villages, newly established ferry routes and the public despair that local rivers are no longer dredged.
The plight of farmers and farmland have also gained the attention of the national press. James Winslade’s story has been featured several times: flooding in 2012 cost his farm business £163,000 and with 790 of the farm’s 840 acres underwater, this year’s financial impact could be the same. His family may have to sell the farm.
Food price rises
Between them, the Daily Mail and Telegraph respectively report that 30,000 and 20,000 acres of farmland are underwater. BBC Newsbeat in turn suggests that there are now fears the flooding will lead to food price rises.
It seems doubtful that this will be the case: the snow storms in early 2013 killed thousands of livestock but had little impact on meat prices. The floods during the summer of 2007 covered farmland totalling 103,784 acres or just over 0.5% of agricultural land in England according to the Department for Environment Farming and Rural Affairs. The current floods cover around a quarter of the area flooded in 2007.
What does flooding actually mean for farmers?
From threatening livestock to damaging infrastructure and ruining arable land the impact of flooding is far reaching. For example Welsh farmer, Ben Jones has had to look for new barn space to rent as floodwater has made his usual lambing space currently unviable. Other farmers are having to undertake emergency rescue or evacuation of livestock from fields and buildings before they become inaccessible.
Perhaps the most visual and widespread impact is on the arable and grass fields that make our countryside so picture perfect.
Flood water only contains 3% of the oxygen that the same volume of air itself contains. The small amount of oxygen is quickly used by aerobic microorganisms and the plants themselves before the plant roots begin to suffer from asphyxiation.
Flood water rapidly prevents gaseous transfer at the root and also prevents the escape of gasses that slow extension or severely damage plant roots. Therefore even if flood water quickly recedes the plants are less tolerant to drought stress during the summer. Un-germinated seeds or those that have just germinated at most risk of damaging from waterlogged soils. They rapidly rot and many crops therefore don’t even mange to emerge from the seedbed.
A big deal?
Some people will look at the countryside and think that as very few fields are permanently underwater what the problem is after the flood waters have visually receded.
However, depending on the soil type it may take weeks or months depending on the continuing weather conditions before farmers can safely take machinery onto the fields. If the previous crop has been killed by the flooding then there is the financial and time burden of establishing a new crop in its pace and hoping that the second planting doesn’t befall the same or similar fate.
While the visual impact of natural events such as flooding or snow storms normally only resides for a relatively brief duration the financial and emotional consequences are far reaching. If weather events cause a cumulative impact, as for some living in Somerset and elsewhere in the country, then the results are often catastrophic.