The National Sheep Association (NSA) has said the new Labour government has “a lot to do” to secure rural confidence following its success in the UK General Election.

The Labour Party is expected to take 412 seats in the General Election with a majority of more than 170, with Keir Starmer set to become the new Prime Minister.

NSA chief executive, Phil Stocker, said agriculture is still within “transition” away from the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), and in addition has suffered from several years of turmoil.

“With the election now over and a new Labour government in power it gives an opportunity to build on some good work that has been done, to deal with some of the gaps still left such as a clear vision and a stronger connection between food production, land management, health, and the economy, to finally give some stability and certainty to our sector – which should be seen as a strategically vital sector,” he said.

“NSA has been clear in its own priorities for a new government, however during the election period, Labour has made little reference to the farming industry.

“Now is the time to engage, listen and develop a food, rural, agriculture and land use policy that supports rural communities and food security in the UK.

“We want to start that stability with continuity with the shadow team that has engaged so far with industry. A change of personnel into these roles will not be welcomed.”

Labour manifesto

Stocker said the Labour Party’s manifesto was “short on detail and depth” and, when the party has been questioned on future agriculture budgets, it has responded that farmers need more understanding of the value and benefits of investments to date.

“NSA agrees with this but we are also strongly of the opinion that current budgets are inadequate given the urgency of many challenges ahead,” Stocker said.

“We urgently need wider and deeper impact assessments of the new farming and environmental schemes as well as more complete recognition of public goods delivery – including food production as a public good.

“It is imperative there is not another U-turn in policy for the industry, instead existing policy needs to be built upon and fundamental issues raised by the wider industry addressed.”

Sheep sector priorities

The NSA has highlighted eight priorities that the sheep industry are seeking to build a positive sector for the future.

These are:

  • Commitment to increase agricultural budget;
  • Recognise food production as public good;
  • Appreciation of the value of grazed livestock as a multi-functional farming and land
    management activity;
  • Increased investment into livestock health;
  • Investment into wool innovation & carbon lifecycle of wool;
  • A new Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) agreement with EU;
  • Clear strategic policy to ensure agriculture is a stable industry, whilst giving new
    entrants access to interest free loans;
  • Commitment to reviewing carbon offsetting, biodiversity net gain, and nutrient neutrality policies.

NSA chair and Devon sheep farmer, Peter Delbridge, said: “The food industry is the largest manufacturing sector in UK, and as farmers we are providing the raw materials for it.

“This demonstrates the importance of support for agriculture from our new government not only to promote a sustainable UK farming industry and support rural communities but also to help sustain the many jobs that are also dependant on our sector.”

NSA policy manager Emma Bradbury said: “There has been a continued lack of commitment to food security over the past decade; we cannot ignore our own food insecurity and must appreciate the production capabilities of our own agricultural systems.

“It is imperative that both politicians and the public are aware of the significant impact agriculture has on the environment, biodiversity and the economy, and British farmers must be supported and enhanced through any future policy.

“Now is the time for Labour to put in the work and secure confidence in our rural communities. NSA is looking forward to engaging with newly elected officials including Daniel Zeichner who made a commitment ahead of the election to join NSA to speak at NSA Sheep Event.”

Stocker said: “As the new government begins its move into Downing Street it is only right to give thanks to the outgoing team that NSA has worked with over several years.

“NSA is incredibly grateful to our outgoing Farming Minister, Mark Spencer, who has continued to be receptive and collaborative throughout the particularly challenging political period that has faced the industry.

“Not only that but Mr Spencer has shown a real understanding and passion for the industry and has been an ally to the farming industry.”