The political pendulum has swung again, with the Conservatives leaving office and the Labour Party taking over in Downing Street following the General Election. Agriculture was little mentioned during the election, with the NHS, the economy, and migration more often hitting the headlines alongside the usual political pantomime of clowns and villains.

Nevertheless, Keir Starmer’s new government has some key farming issues to address if they want to put food production and the countryside on a firm footing.

Agricultural Policy

The English support schemes are shifting from direct support inherited from the former Common Agricultural Policy to environmental and efficiency-focused payments. A key part of this is the phasing out of the Basic Area Payment in England from 2021 to 2027.

The previous Conservative government promised to reinvest the £2.33bn annual budget into replacement schemes such as the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI), the Farming Investment Fund (FIF), the Countryside Stewardship Scheme, and the Landscape Recovery Scheme.

These schemes have undergone significant reforms since their initial creation under former Defra Secretary Michael Gove, who famously called for ‘public funds for public goods.’ Gove’s plans resulted in a pivot away from revenue support for farm businesses based on the area of land farmed and towards environmental, biodiversity, and climate change-focused measures. Since then, the schemes have been rebalanced to make the impact of the changes less severe on businesses that rely on government support. However, the direction of travel away from direct payments has remained.

One of the first questions for any incoming Defra Secretary will be to decide if the new government will continue with this course of action. Critics of the Westminster plans have claimed that the English support scheme jeopardizes food security and could push many family farms that rely on direct support out of business.

Agricultural reform is always a painful political process. The incoming government said little about agriculture, with NFU Scotland criticizing the party for dedicating less than 100 words to the topic in their manifesto. As a result, it looks unlikely that a seismic change in direction for English farming policy is on the cards.

Trade and Market Access

Despite many polls suggesting the majority of the British public regret leaving the EU, neither of the big two parties put renegotiating with the continent in their key manifesto points. Nigel Farage’s Reform UK party’s 14% showing in the votes demonstrates how important Brexit and immigration remain to the public.

Nevertheless, the Labour Party has indicated they intend to engage with the EU to look at aspects of the existing trade deal. Farmers will need to watch closely to assess if these talks could result in seed potatoes regaining access to continental markets or if food produced in the UK will be given equivalence status and less onerous checks at the border.

Further afield, the election in the US indicates that there will be little progress on a deal across the Atlantic. New Zealand and Australian deals are just bedding in now with their products arriving in the UK market. Beef imports from Australia and NZ accounted for 45% of non-EU shipments in the first third of 2024, up from 15% in the same period of 2023, highlighting use of the FTAs which entered force on 31/5/23.

Australia is the UK’s 21st largest trading partner, with bilateral trade equating to £20 billion in the twelve months to the end of Q4 2023, according to the UK’s Department of Business and Trade. This has risen sharply since former Prime Minister Boris Johnson signed the Australia-UK Free Trade Agreement (A-UKFTA). Further, A-UKFTA is wrapped up in the deal between the US, UK, and AUS to transfer nuclear weapons to Australia, so any major unpicking is unlikely.

Similarly, changes to the New Zealand deal look unlikely as other priorities will be further up Keir Starmer’s inbox.

Environmental Regulations

Water issues were a key element of the election, with the Liberal Democrats campaigning hard on the issue and gaining many rural seats. Much of the debate was aimed at water companies and sewage, but also intensive farming was a local issue in some constituencies. One rural seat in Herefordshire was won by the Green Party, with strong campaigning on the impact of the local chicken population seen as key to the victory.

Sharp U-turns on climate change targets are unlikely for the Labour Party, but if working-class voters start to feel the price of going green hitting them in the pocket, pressure will grow for a recourse.

Labour and Workforce

One of the key election debates has been around migration. The strong showing of the Reform UK party will check the Prime Minister’s appetite to increase migrant labour.

Post-Brexit immigration policies have made it more challenging to source seasonal labour, which is vital for sectors like horticulture and the meat trade. The Labour government may seek to address this by revising visa regulations or introducing new schemes to ensure that the agricultural sector can access the workforce it needs. However, how this squares with many Labour seats demanding a cut in net migration remains to be seen.

Scottish Farming Grant

For those farming north of the border, one of the key questions will be the size of the Scottish rural budget and if any ties will accompany the cheque sent to Holyrood. Previously, the Conservative government had sent the cash north with no strict rules on how it could be spent, which in part, resulted in the cash being siphoned off at the last Scottish budget to plug holes elsewhere in public finances.

Again, adding strings to the Scottish farming budget sent from Westminster could rankle devolutionists with little benefit to London. Further, if the SNP continue on their downward trend following their loss of at least 39 seats, it could be the same party ruling in both London and Edinburgh. Also farmers will need to note that the Green party has not disappeared by any stretch in Scotland and welcomed many disaffected SNP voters.


Fears that significant changes to the taxation regime have been consistently played down by the Labour party during the campaign. However, generating increased revenue will be needed if spending is to rise. Taxing businesses will hamper the party’s popularity less than raising income tax or VAT. The Labour party stated they would not be making changes to Agricultural Relief for Inheritance Tax following concerns from the land-owning community.


The first 100 days in office will be dominated by the Labour Party setting out their priorities for government, with the new cabinet likely to enjoy something of a honeymoon period. Where agriculture and the countryside fit into this under a largely urban-based party ruling the country remains to be seen.

There is the old adage that ‘farming does well under a Labour Government,’ so now we will find out if this is true.