Somerset farmers are calling for food production to be recognised as a ‘public good’ as the government draws up a new domestic agricultural policy that will govern farm life after Brexit.

Defra’s recent Health and Harmony consultation focussed on delivering farming support in return for farmers providing public goods, including flood prevention work, looking after soil and providing wildlife habitats.

The Somerset NFU considers these important but that it is vital that the government acknowledges that a robust and resilient domestic food production centre is in the nation’s interest and consequently includes measures to support farmers in their role as food producers.

The organisation believes that this would help the country to achieve greater self-sufficiency in food it can produce itself. Currently the UK is just over 60% self-sufficient. It also belives that it would ensure a safe and traceable supply of food, support jobs, investment and growth, secure high standards of welfare and environmental goods.

The food and drink manufacturing industry is worth around £367 million to Somerset and supports 19,000 jobs. Combined with agriculture, which is worth £188 million and provides another 10,000 jobs, it constitutes a sector that is worth more than half a billion pounds to the county’s economy and employs more people than live in a town the size of Frome.

A report published recently by the NFU revealed that the sheep industry, a key part of farming in Somerset, was worth £60 million to the region.

Somerset NFU chairman Haydn Garrett is a dairy farmer. He said: “If we reduce the amount of food that is produced domestically, it will just increase reliance on imports from countries where standards are not as high. Viable farm businesses will be able to deliver the sort of environmental work the government is talking about, but if we are left struggling it will not be easy.”