Tractor farmer farming countryside

This summer for many farmers has been stark and the impacts will be felt for months

This year has been both extraordinary and unprecedented for British agriculture. A prolonged winter and the hot and dry weather that engulfed the country for months have both put extra pressure on the nation’s farmers and growers.

The reality this summer for many farmers has been stark and the impacts will be felt for months. With a lack of rainfall, grass growth has been poor and many farmers have had to start feeding livestock winter fodder supplies. The result is that many farmers face tens of thousands of pounds worth of extra cost to their businesses buying in feed and bedding for the winter.

Read more: Growers struggle with hottest summer since 1976

The NFU has heard from potato growers that the lack of rainfall has affected their crop and strained relationships with packers and processors. Similar concerns have been raised by arable farmers, where some crops saw almost no recordable rainfall in key growing months, affecting yield.

Farmgate prices will likely rise and retail prices might also. A recent report shows that shoppers could see an increase of about £7 per month on their food bills, bringing into clear focus how the impacts of the weather can reverberate through the supply chain. But we should remember that the UK is one of only eight countries whose shoppers spend less than 10% of their income on food and drink.

Dealing with volatility is nothing new to those who work in our world-beating food supply chain. Farmers have made the supply of food look effortless, so that those outside the industry assume that as a wealthy country we can take such shocks in our stride and even trade our way out of trouble.

Most of the time they would be right, in no small part because of the professionalism and resilience of UK food plc. But look around the globe. Since the food price spikes of 2008, we have seen the re-emergence of protectionist trade agendas. Governments and industry have worked together to establish food as a strategic and economic priority, not to be taken for granted. There has been recognition that there’s a moral imperative to produce food and in times of shortage other countries might decide to feed their own people first.

Now is the time to do the same in the UK. Austerity has been a challenge for many consumers. So we must bind our industrial strategy and a new domestic agricultural policy together under an overall strategy for food production that upholds the highest standards and maintains the supply of sustainable, safe, affordable and healthy food to each and every citizen.

As we focus on once again becoming a sovereign economy, home-produced British food must remain available to all budgets, while also allowing British farmers to play a full role in Britain’s economic future.

For farming this will be about ensuring we have a policy that incentivises productivity and resilience, promotes continued environmental stewardship and helps farmers manage volatility, delivering fair returns to those who shoulder the risk.

In highlighting the realities and needs of food production in Brexit discussions, we have seen those actors work more closely together than anyone can remember. As part of Back British Farming Day on 12 September I want us to start a conversation on food and its importance, with the industry and beyond.

Read more: Feed shortages push prices up as heatwave hits home

People connect over food. It matters in every single parliamentary constituency. Food should be the unifying theme for us as we attempt to navigate uncertain and likely turbulent waters.

If nothing else, the impact of this year’s weather serves as a timely reminder that we must not take food production for granted.

This autumn we will be doing our best to manage those impacts, keeping shelves full and customers supplied - but we should also look to the long term; to speak with one voice about the importance of food and what we need from a joined-up food policy at this crucial crossroads for the country and its largest manufacturing sector.

Minette Batters is president of the National Farmers’ Union