THE NFU has urged the Government and its agencies to take a commonsense approach when dealing with farmers affected by the constant wet weather and flooding.

And it wants the next Government and its agencies to develop long-term plans to mitigate future flood risks and to better manage water.

It has asked the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) to treat the current weather as "force majeure" for farmers in agri-environment schemes who cannot meet their scheme obligations because of the weather.

Farmers, particularly in the North-East and East Midlands, have reported the worst rainfall in living memory. It has left prime farmland badly affected, and thousands of acres under water.

Rainfall levels in September were 98 per cent higher than in September 2018, and the Met Office says the UK received 109 per cent – 138.8mm – of its average rainfall in October.

Many arable farmers have been unable to finish harvesting crops such as maize and potatoes and expect severe delays in drilling and sowing winter cereals. Sugar beet farmers are unable to get machinery on the wet ground to lift the crop, while livestock farmers have had to bring their animals indoors earlier than normal, leading to higher feed and bedding costs.

The NFU has asked Defra, the RPA and the Environment Agency, to be flexible and ease cash flow problems. The RPA has been asked to ensure affected farmers receive their BPS payments as early as possible when the payment window opens next month.

Guy Smith, NFU deputy president, said: "It is absolutely critical that Defra takes a common-sense approach to how it manages this situation, particularly ensuring affected farmers are paid promptly at the start of the payment window next month.

"It’s at times like these that Defra needs to remember it is a supportive department for the nation’s food producers, not just a regulatory one. Our future domestic agricultural policy must recognise this and ensure there are measures for farm businesses to manage volatility, particularly in the face of increasingly unpredictable weather."

Minette Batters, NFU president, said: "The rainfall that some parts of the country have been experiencing over the past few months underlines the vulnerability of farming businesses, the fragility of returns to farmers, their exposure to volatility – ultimately resulting in an impact on their bottom line.

"It’s why the next government and its agencies need to take water-related issues seriously. Some of our most productive and highest value agricultural land is vulnerable to flooding and deserves to be protected.

“Any future domestic agricultural policy must ensure there are measures in place for farm businesses to manage volatility, particularly in the face of increasingly unpredictable weather."

Mrs Batters said the UK has £20bn of flood defences – but too little is spent on their upkeep.

She said: "We’re starting to see breaches of flood embankments, just like the recent incident at Wainfleet in Lincolnshire. This needs to be looked at urgently.

"We also need to take full advantage of measures to maintain the conveyance and capacity of our rivers while at the same time seeking a more active role for some farms to trap, store and slow water. Farmers providing flood management services should be properly rewarded where they are a cost-efficient solution.

"The NFU will work with any future Government to ensure it takes all the steps necessary to protect productive farmland so farmers can continue to produce a supply of safe, traceable and affordable food for the nation and protect and enhance our rural landscapes."