FARMERS have poured scorn on a new flood relief fund announced by Prime Minister David Cameron, claiming it will do little to offset losses running into hundreds of thousands of pounds.
Mr Cameron revealed the Government’s new £10m Farming Recovery Fund on a visit to Oxfordshire last month, saying it would help farmers whose fields have been underwater.
The fund is accepting applications from farmers who saw their businesses and homes wrecked by the winter floods.
But county farmers say the fund was not enough, that there are too many restrictions on what qualifies for funding and that more needs to be done.
Those who submit applications for assistance could receive between £500 and £5,000.
But Bampton farmer Tim Hook, who has 1,700 acres of land, said even the maximum amount would cover only a small percentage of his losses.
He said the loss of seed alone has cost about £22,000 so far.
Mr Hook, who met with Mr Cameron at his flooded farm during last month’s visit, said: “Grass seed costs £60 an acre, which means even with £5,000 it would only buy 83 acres of seed. So you can see that, for me, it doesn’t go very far.”
Simon Beddows, who has a farm in Dunsden Green, South Oxfordshire, said: “We’re not applying because it’s not accessible. It’s not for seed or anything you have actually lost. It’s only for repair work to the ground and more drainage.”
He added that the scheme does not allow farmers to carry out work cheaply to save money.
“You’re not allowed to do it yourself. You have to get a contractor.”
It is not just crops which are affected. Brian Franklin, from Moorlands Farm in Murcott, may have to sell or cull 150 of his cattle due to the prolonged flooding.
He said: “We would like to buy some land to rent for them, or buy something for the cows to eat.
“If there’s no grass for them to eat and if they won’t spend the money on that, we’ll have to sell or cull them.”
Others are also unhappy with the amount of money available to farmers.
Isobel Bretherton, spokeswoman for the National Farmers Union in the South East, said: “It’s really not very much at all. It’s better than nothing, but it really won’t cover the losses.
“Farmers have lost thousands of pounds, and this really won’t even touch it or make much difference.”
Mr Franklin, 68, agreed: “You won’t get anything like what you have actually lost.
“We’ll have to jump through every hoop as well. I don’t think it will be very easy.”
Mr Hook, 32, met with Mr Cameron on February 14 when the Prime Minister visited his flooded fields and said he believed Oxfordshire farmers would get their share of the £10m pot of funding.
Mr Hook said: “We are thankful for the help but it is a token gesture. What is going to happen next year? This will go some way this year but we might still be left meandering next year.”
Sheep farmer George Fenemore, from Clifton, also said that the future is a worry.
He said: “My biggest concern is about next winter. We have enough hay to feed them for now but when it comes to the winter and we’ve lost all of our fodder, I don’t know what I’ll feed them.”
Mr Fenemore, 68, added: “Farming is a business. What are they going to do to protect farmers and protect food production?
“Without the stuff on the farms, there won’t be the stuff in the supermarket.”
In response, Mr Cameron said: “The Government is doing everything it can to help those affected but I know that many farmers, businesses and residents continue to face a tough time.
“I recently met with farmers in my constituency when we discussed the Farming Recovery Fund and how best it should be distributed. We want to encourage farmers to work together in sharing and reducing the costs so that the fund can go further.”
Oxford East MP Andrew Smith said: “The £10m is a welcome start, but when you think about all the farmers affected and the huge areas under water the Government needs to provide a lot more if farms are to get effective help.
“This money can come from the contingencies fund the Treasury maintains precisely for this sort of emergency.”
Harry Crawford, of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), said: “The Farming Recovery Fund will help farm businesses to restore flooded agricultural land and bring it back into production as quickly as possible.”
He said they would also look into other sources of funding.
WHAT HELP IS AVAILABLE?
- The £10m Farming Recovery Fund, which lets farmers apply for between £500 and £5,000 for soil regeneration.
- Grants of up to £5,000 for households and businesses in affected areas to improve premises’ resilience to future flooding.
- £10m is available under the Farming and Forestry Improvement Scheme, part of the Rural Development Programme. This provides support for farm business resilience.