East Anglian farmers are calling on politicians to back homegrown food production in the run-up to the next general election - or risk future food shortages.

As speculation grows over whether the prime minister will call an early election next year, the National Farmers' Union (NFU) has launched a "manifesto" urging all MPs and parliamentary candidates to back policies which support British agriculture.

It also published research showing that 66pc of people surveyed think the parties’ plans on farming will be one of the key issues deciding who they vote for at the polls.

Andrew Blenkiron, director of the Euston Estate near Thetford and chairman of the Suffolk branch of the NFU, said food security was a crucial issue and all politicians must be "held to account on where our food comes from and how it is produced".

He said it would be "so easy" to buy from the cheapest producers in the world - but that food would come with a higher carbon footprint and would potentially not meet the same environmental and animal welfare standards as Britain's.

"I would question how secure that supply really is," he said. "We have seen too many shortages over the last few years to forget about this as an issue.

"East Anglian farmers can compete with the lowest cost producers in the world - although it does sometimes seem like the regulators want to tie not only one, but both hands behind our backs when we attempt to deliver. 

"The key to me is that our customers continue to have the ability to purchase local produce at affordable prices and that government supports us as farmers to enable this to happen."

The research also shows 84pc of people think food production targets are at least as important as environmental targets for farming.

The NFU manifesto also calls on the next government to set targets for British food production, to match the "target-led ambitions" set for the environment, green energy and climate change. 

Eastern Daily Press:  Norfolk farmer Tony Bambridge, who chairs the NFU's regional board for the East of England Norfolk farmer Tony Bambridge, who chairs the NFU's regional board for the East of England (Image: NFU)

Tony Bambridge, a north Norfolk farmer who chairs the NFU's regional board for the East of England, and is a director of B&C Farming in Marsham, said: "Two or three times a day each and every person reaches for a meal and invariably that meal will have been made possible due to a farmer somewhere producing many of the ingredients.

"It’s a fundamental of life that we forget at our peril and it is heartening to see that from this new research that a vast majority of the public recognise this, and that in the volatile world we live in, having a coherent food and farming policy that has targets is a key ask of any future government.

"As a farmer I recognise the need to have a balance between the environment and its protection, habitat for our amazing wildlife, and also room to produce the food which sustains us all.

"We have witnessed trade deals that impinge on this aim, legislation that limits our productive capacity and large businesses that have made individual decisions that constrain our industry, so having an integrated farming and food policy is crucial for our country."

Eastern Daily Press:  National Farmers' Union president Minette Batters National Farmers' Union president Minette Batters (Image: Newsquest)

NFU president Minette Batters added: “We know that the rural vote will be important in this election, but it’s clear that across the country, people living in towns and cities also want to know how parties plan to boost sustainable, home-grown food production as well as care for the environment and tackle climate change.

"As a country, there are multiple priorities and challenges, and this manifesto shows that food security must be one of them, with our farm businesses supported to invest and grow for the benefit of everyone."