Rising Waters, Growing Concerns: Safeguarding Farms from Flood Damage

Floods are becoming more frequent across the USA and as a result there has been a huge impact on agriculture. According to PBS, northeast farmers have been the most severely impacted; in Massachusetts, at least 75 farms have been impacted by flooding. That’s at least 2000 hectares, or $15 million in damage - not including yield damage - in one state alone. With floods now a part of life for most of the USA, it’s undoubtedly time that farms start to consider the measures they have in place to foster resilience and create barriers to those floods causing long-term damage.


Installing emergency measures

The most important step that farms need to take to safeguard against flood damage is to put emergency contingencies in place. This is the case both for pastoral and arable land - which, of course, have a number of relationships between themselves. Repeated flood damage can cause huge damage to the latter, in particular, and long-term measures are needed. However, in the short-term, installing flood barriers and looking to create effective drainage will help to retain quality in the soil. Classic farming methods, for instance the use of other foliage, including trees, to ‘lock in’ soil, also work.


Livestock is another matter altogether and one that requires extensive preparation in the concern of. According to the American Humane Society, it may be safer to allow animals to roam freely if disaster strikes, rather than keeping them confined in a barn or other confined area. Having a full plan in place, including emergency contingencies and reinforced properties to provide a port during the storm, is important. The cost of replacing entire herds of livestock can be huge and often spells the end of an agricultural venture. Protecting that, and protecting your property, is key.


Changing the crop

In financial terms, one of the most effective methods of building flood resilience is to change the types of crops being farmed. According to a study by the Flood Resilience Portal, this is already being embraced by many farmers. 28% have moved to a flood-resistant crop such as mushrooms, and over 40% have looked to farm seasonal produce. Beyond that, a greater number of farmers are looking to water-resilient crop types, such as Swarna Sub-1 rice, as an alternative to historically water-damaged crops.


This is in stark contrast to the most widely farmed crop, corn, which is not very flood resistant. Other submerged crops, such as potatoes, operate in a similar fashion, and are at significant risk of damage in flood events. Moving  to more sustainable and water-resistant crops is an effective way to create financially viable yields and protect against disaster.


Long term planning

The Farmers Weekly magazine of Britain offers a number of great principles to help prevent long-term flood damage and build true resilience. These are all-in methods that require radical thinking from the farmer and land operator. However, they are necessary to foster long term flood resilience.


One key area of improvement that farms can embrace is the use of runoff plains and reservoirs. Creating natural channels into which water can runoff and be captured, sometimes for use in summer crops but chiefly to prevent waterlogging, is a powerful method of remediation. Farming methods can be altered, too. Altering your soil work so that it is left rough and shaggy will mean it can absorb more water, as opposed to ultra-compacted layers. Finally, look at the resilience of the land itself. Planting more trees can help to firm up soil. Hedgerows instead of fences will create another natural break, and can be used as a way to absorb runoff. Turning your land to be a natural haven in which water levels are managed in a passive sense will help to prevent flood waters being quite so damaging.


The threats posed by increased levels of flooding are perhaps most felt in agricultural settings. Excess waters have absolute potential to destroy yields, and end the lifespan of farms altogether. Food is always in demand, even without considering how difficult the current economic situation is currently. As such, it is absolutely crucial, locally and nationally, that farms build flood resilience and focus on how they can stay productive during disaster.


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