Farmers count the cost of the floods – and do their bit to help villagers
As the floodwaters subside farmers throughout the Westcountry are counting the cost of drenched fields and sodden crops.
The late-autumn rains will have cost the industry tens of thousands of pounds in the region – and have further diminished already low stocks of animal feed for the coming winter.
Now livestock farmers are hoping for mild weather so they may conserve forage and silage to see them through to March, when the grass begins to grow again.
For those in real trouble there is ready help from others through the Fodder Bank scheme, which is run by the National Farmers' Union (NFU). The free online service was launched five years ago and has been effective in both exceptionally wet and dry years, helping match farmers with shortages and those with surplus cattle feed and bedding.
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But the knock-on effect of the storms and floods would prove more costly to farmers, explained Ian Johnson, the NFU's South West regional spokesman.
"Ostensibly, and more obviously, householders who have been flooded out are much worse off – but farmers who are affected face very real long-term costs and problems," he said. "Floods and heavy rain at this stage of the year have exacerbated the problems of a wet summer and poor harvest, and when the floods subside there are remaining longer-term problems of spoilt pastures that will take some time to recover."
For arable farmers the wet autumn had already delayed some crop drilling before last week's deluge, which delayed the whole process even further. And where crops had already been drilled there was the danger of seeds being washed away, particularly where ground was not well drained.
There was no insurance cover in that situation, with bills for lost seed running into many thousands of pounds.
Farmers in the more hilly western parts of the region had fared better than those in the flatter east – with the Somerset Levels (pictured) especially badly hit.
"Parts of the Levels look like an inland sea," added Mr Johnson. "I have never seen it so bad."
Farmers in the Exe Valley, too, have been badly hit, and some had been flooded as many as four times in the past year, to a greater or lesser extent, said Mr Johnson.
But there were many examples of farmers helping the community during the floods, he stressed.
At Chard, farmers had used their equipment to unblock drains that were causing water to build up.
And previous issues of flooding at Ottery St Mary had been alleviated to a considerable extent by farmers having moved field gateways, which had allowed water draining from soaked land to spill on to roads, following negotiations with the local community.