Election 2024: What does it mean for Food, Farming and the Environment? 

As the election draws nearer, the three major parties have released their manifesto pledges for what they seek to implement if elected into government.

In a time of uncertainty and change for farming and the wider environment, it’s critical that the next government has a plan in place to ensure a resilient and sustainable approach to land management. 

So what have the parties pledged, and what does this mean for the future of farming and the environment?

Farming Budget 

The budget allocated to farming is critical – it defines how much will be spent on farming across the parliamentary term. Whilst the Conservatives have pledged £1bn across the next parliament, the Liberal Democrats have promised £1bn per year, over the same period. A key difference between these policies is where the former claims the extra money can be spent on grants to subsidise food production, the latter is more specifically targeted at ‘profitable, sustainable and nature-friendly farming’. Labour, meanwhile, has not given a specific costing, instead stating they will improve access to funding and “review the farming budget” if elected.

Importantly, these parties have all expressed a commitment to continue Environmental Land Management Schemes (ELMs) as the mechanism to support farmers. This sees a continuation of the “public money for public goods” approach, recognising that sustainability and resilience are critical to food production, and the environment and farming can and should co-exist. All have recognised that, simply put, farming in the UK requires more investment, but the key tension rests on whether money is spent just on growing food, or doing so whilst enhancing the natural environment. 

Food Security, Trade and a Land Use Framework?

Food security seems to be the foundation upon which many other policies have been formulated for this election, though again, the respective parties conceptualise it differently. For the Conservatives, this manifests both in their extra £1bn pledge, but also a legally binding UK-wide target on food security to aid in the allocation of farming funds. Quite what this means in practice is not entirely clear. Labour presents the idea that “food security is national security”, implying an intention to support domestic food production. For the Lib Dems, food security lies in introducing a National Food Strategy, which encompasses issues around the supply, demand and distribution of food.

Trade deals are a key feature of all the campaigns. Claims to support domestic production are only as good as the trade deals made alongside them. The Conservative party have pledged to stand up for farmers when negotiating new deals, whilst the Lib Dems say they will revisit existing agreements with Australia and New Zealand. Domestically, all parties have expressed a desire to use public sector procurement (contracts for hospitals, the military and so on) to ensure more produce is sourced locally and to higher environmental standards. 

Food Security is a key issue across the parties

Whilst a Land Use Framework is implied by the Conservatives, for both Labour and the Lib Dems, providing a coherent framework for balancing competing priorities for land use (farming, nature, clean energy, housing and so on) is a key policy. This policy is key to ensuring a holistic, connected approach to land management.

Broader Environmental Policy 

The continued need to enhance and protect the environment is acknowledged by all parties, with each pledging to improve access to green spaces and the outdoors in different ways. None develop a ‘right to roam’, but suggest working with landowners to constructively improve public access.

Planting trees is likewise a universal aspiration; the Conservatives have promised a continuation of their national tree and peat strategies, whilst slashing bureaucracy to improve tree-planting rates.Similarly, Labour has claimed they will plant “millions of trees” whilst creating new woodlands. The Lib Dems explicitly commit to planting 60 million trees a year.

Habitat restoration appears across all three manifestos to varying degrees, Labour and the Conservatives provide less detail on how this will materialise, stressing more their intention. Again, the Lib Dems go into more detail, offering refined Local Nature Recovery Strategies to create a ‘Wild Belt’, more ‘public money for public goods’ programmes, and ultimately intending to “double nature” by 2050.

Summary of the election policies

Overall, it is encouraging to see a universal recognition that farming and environmental recovery requires proper investment and policy support. The confusion around the implementation of ELMs as a means of delivering environmentally friendly farming is beginning to fade as scheme uptake continues and the sector gains confidence. Any party which takes government must then ensure that ELMs are adequately funded, clearly explained, and delivered with the certainty and reassurance that the sector so badly needs. Though in early stages of formulation, some of these policies have finally begun to consider environmental issues holistically, recognising their inherently connected and mutually reinforcing nature. Providing food security, for example, is as much about providing economic support to farmers as it is about conserving the environment which sustains food production, as well as social patterns of consumption.

When transitioning to producing food in harmony with the natural environment at scale, whilst simultaneously developing resilience to climate change and market shocks, a clear path forward is critical. Failing to acknowledge the essential role farming has to play in tackling the twin crises of biodiversity and climate, serves only to reinforce the issues the sector is racing to rectify.

The full party manifestos can be found here: 

Labour                            Liberal Democrats                        Conservatives


Growing up on a regenerative small holding, the relationship between food systems and the natural world has long been an interest of mine. Focusing on land-use tensions and geo-politics at Oxford, and now an MSc in Sustainable Development with Exeter, my interests lie in how we can leverage policy and natural capital principles to encourage not only regenerative land management and food systems alongside investment in nature recovery, but ultimately how we can ensure social equity and systems resilience. I’m drawn to the social elements of nature recovery and climate change adaptation, in particular the intersection of geopolitics, biodiversity economics and justice.
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