Following the leak of remarks made by senior government advisor Tim Leunig over the weekend, in which he states controversially that ‘Britain doesn’t need farmers’, the National Sheep Association (NSA) has joined other industry bodies in disputing the comments.

The senior Treasury adviser argued that the agricultural and fishery sectors were not 'critically important', only making a negligible contribution to the economy. In his comments, he also suggested that farmers should not be given tax breaks denied to other industries.

NSA chief executive Phil Stocker responded: “The comments reportedly made by Tim Leunig are alarming although we’ve known that these views do unfortunately exist in certain Whitehall quarters. It is particularly concerning however given that Mr Leunig is an adviser to, and friend of Dominic Cummings who we know is especially influential in the inner circles of Number 10.

“A nation’s agriculture is a fundamentally strategic need and providing food security could not be more important particularly with the climate and political volatility we are starting to experience. Climate change is throwing up so many uncertainties and while British farmers have felt the force of this in recent years, and indeed are feeling it today with unprecedented recent rainfall, most predictions suggest that future conditions in Britain will mean our food producers may need to be relied on even more.”

NSA is keen to remind government officials of the vital role the agricultural sector has on UK economics and everyday life in the UK. UK farmers produce more than 60 per cent of the food that is consumed in the UK, and exports of agri-food products amount to over £18billion annually.

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Around 500,000 people rely on agriculture for employment either directly or through supply chains, but when the broader agri-food sector is taken into account (including the manufacture, distribution and preparation of food in catering establishments) the workforce exceeds 3.5million people, which is about 13 per cent of the UK total workforce.

In addition to the economic contribution, UK agriculture is responsible as an important provider of outdoor recreation and leisure opportunities for millions of UK residents and thousands of international visitors each year and crucially UK farmers are responsible for managing the agricultural landscape, making up over 70 per cent of the UK’s land area. This land management includes helping to shape the countryside and it’s woodlands, hedges, ponds and meadows, providing habitats for wildlife and biodiversity and helping to regulate the natural environment including water and air resources.

Mr Stocker said: “Our agricultural sector is one to be extremely proud of, one that is capable of supplying the highest quality nutrition, grown and reared using environmentally friendly, sustainable methods to its population. To abandon this sounds almost too ridiculous to believe but we have to take views and comments such as this seriously because if supposedly intelligent people in positions of influence think this way then the views are probably more deeply held than we realise. It is important to remember, a nation that cannot feed itself is one to be pitied but one that chooses not to feed itself is foolish and has no soul.”