Shoppers have been warned to expect a new wave of price rises on food, as areas of Britain face the prospect of their worst drought in decades.

Speaking at a crisis meeting between farmers and water companies, environment secretary Caroline Spelman yesterday declared that the south east of England was officially in drought.

The news marks the earliest time of year ever a drought has been declared, and comes after two dry winters in a row.

Farmers warned that food prices would be certain to rise unless the government was ready to assist producers.

“We want to see evidence from government that it is giving food producers a fair crack of the whip,” said Paul Hammett of the NFU. “Government must get the balance right between environmental protection and food production. For food security we need water security.”