Suffolk and Essex farmers have welcomed moves by the prime minister to bolster food production in the UK - but there were calls in East Anglia for him to go further.

Rishi Sunak welcomed farmers' leaders to Number 10 Downing Street on Tuesday (May 14) for a Farm to Fork Summit.

He set out a major package of measures - including a new blueprint to boost domestic production in the UK horticulture sector and an annual food index to measure the level of food security in the UK.

Around 100 representatives from food and farming organisations - as well as members of Cabinet and departments across Whitehall - were invited to the event.

National Farmers' Union (NFU) president Tom Bradshaw - who farms near Colchester - was among those to meet the PM and said many of the announcements he made were "extremely welcome".

Suffolk NFU branch chairman Glenn Buckingham described the commitments as "great news" that brought "some reality to the politicians that we need to be more secure in food sufficiency".

East Anglian Daily Times:

Country Land and Business Association (CLA) East acting regional director Mark Riches also welcomed the measures but said the plan must be ambitious and workable.

Among the commitments was a plan to cut planning red tape to make it easier to build glasshouses, and a doubling of an £80m funding package for the horticultural industry to help boost innovation.

The summit saw the publication of the first draft Food Security Index, setting out key data and trends.

Mr Bradshaw welcomed the long-term strategic plans around food security, horticulture, investment and growth for the sector - but admitted farmers were facing a tough time.

A recent NFU survey showed a crisis of confidence among farmers and growers who have been badly hit by the wettest winter on record.

Mr Buckingham - who farms near Debenham - said the food index would be a valuable indicator going forward.

He welcomed support for the top fruit industry and for small abattoirs - which he said were "important confidence-giving measures".

"Hats off to the NFU and Minette Batters legacy for getting the first summit set up last year," he said.

"The orchards and abattoir issue I have raised several times.

"Orchards not only provide fruit , they also support biodiversity for other species, sequester carbon and reduce our need to import from other countries.

"The grubbing out grants of the 1970s and 1980s were almost a criminal act. Let's hope now that the horticultural and fruit sector feel more secure and the UK consumers supports them.  

"Maintaining local infrastructure for our food system is vital in many ways, in particular the abattoir support. The seasonal worker scheme is a necessity at this time."

Mr Bradshaw said: “It was good to return to Number 10 today to see and hear the prime minister champion British food production, putting it at the top of the national political agenda. Food security is national security."

He added that they were pleased that the government took on board its calls for a replacement for the EU Fruit and Veg Aid Scheme, and a commitment to legislate to improve contractual relationships.

He added: "While we are pleased to see the prime minister and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) saying UK food security is vital to our national security, we need actions in the short-term that underpin that statement, in order to rebuild confidence and resilience so farming businesses can continue producing food.

“We will continue to engage with ministers on the detail needed for the immediate relief our farm businesses require and believe that core standards for food imports also need to be part of the long-term offer.”

Country Land and Business Association (CLA) East Acting Regional Director Mark Riches said it was  pleasing to see the PM recognise the importance of food security and growing domestic production.

But he added: “We call on the government to go a step further by developing a robust and bold plan for the rural economy as a whole.

"The rural economy is 19% less productive than the national average, but closing that gap would add £43bn to national GVA (Gross Value Added).

“It is crucial that the role of a tenant farming commissioner is fair and balanced for landlords, agents and tenants.

"The commissioner must be a well-respected neutral party with a good understanding of the agricultural world, and have the resources to properly assess any cases that reach them.”