A EUROPEAN subsidy that encourages farmers to grow more maize has increased river flooding, water companies claimed this week. It has also cost the water industry an extra £200M in pollution clean up costs, said water industry body Water UK.
UK farmers have increased maize production by 600% over the past 10 years to meet growing demands for cattle feed, said Water UK policy adviser Jacob Tompkin.
When the land is left for the winter after harvesting, run-off from maize fields into rivers can increase as much as 400%, said Tompkin.
The problem is caused by harvesting maize in October rather than in late summer like other crops. The damp autumn soil compacts and seals under the harvesting machinery, forming an impermeable surface and preventing it from soaking up more moisture.
This means that more water reaches rivers more quickly, and that waterways become more polluted by herbicides and manure.
Run-off can peak at 433m 3/ha between February and April compared with 10m 3/ha run-off on a non-compacted field, according to Environment Agency research.
Tompkin wants to see farmers paid subsidies to leave strips of land next to rivers fallow to allow reeds to grow and act as a run-off buffer.
Environment Agency rural land use adviser for the South West, Richard Smith, denied European policy was to blame for increased run-off.
'Farmers are growing more maize simply because it is a superior animal feed to grass, ' he said. The subsidies farmers received were 'peanuts', he added.
Tompkin said he hoped the new European Water Framework Directive would lead to less run-off from farmland into rivers when adopted in the UK next year.
Under the directive rivers will be managed as part of a catchment area rather than as a stand alone resource.
INFOPLUS www. nceplus. com/magazine/ flooding