The Labour Party’s rural policies have come under fire on the eve of its party conference in Manchester.

Both the Tories and Lib Dems have accused the government of abandoning rural communities and farmers to win urban votes.

Lord Redesdale, Lib Dem agricultural spokesman in the House of Lords, insisted that farming is the only solution to the joint concerns of food security and climate change.

Speaking at a fringe meeting at the party conference in Bournemouth, Lord Redesdale said that Labour had only been able to neglect farming before, when food was cheap and readily available.

“The countryside can no longer be seen as an open-air museum. It is going to have to start providing food again and politically it will become more important in the next five to 10 years,” said Lord Redesdale.

The Lib Dem peer was joined by NFU vice-president Paul Temple, who added that Labour had failed to assert Britain’s farming position in the EU.

“Regulation must be looked at in terms of its cost and net effect,” he said.

“It should encourage agricultural investment that improves productivity and the environmental footprint of farming and not put farmers at a disadvantage through unnecessary and poorly thought out proposals.”

Meanwhile the Conservatives’ environment spokesman, Peter Ainsworth, bemoaned DEFRA figures which showed that Britain imported £1.3bn-worth more fruit and vegetables this year than last.

Mr Ainsworth questioned: “Why do only 5% of orchard fruits in the NHS come from British farms?”

But DEFRA replied that Mr Ainsworth was confusing food security with self-sufficency. A DEFRA spokesman said: “A diverse supply of food ensures we are not dependent on one source to meet demand.”