Shadow Defra secretary Steve Reed detailed Labour’s position at the Oxford Farming Conference

The Labour Party has promised “a new deal for farmers” to boost British food production and national security.

Labour's Steve Reed, speaking at the 2024 Oxford Farming Conference

Labour’s Steve Reed, speaking at the 2024 Oxford Farming Conference

Speaking at the Oxford Farming Conference on 4 January, shadow Defra secretary Steve Reed described running the department as “one of the most significant jobs in government”, and made an impassioned pitch for what his party would do if elected later this year. 

Stating that Westminster has “ignored the needs and ambitions of our farmers”, Reed began by listing all the challenges facing primary food producers, from high tax, rent and mortgage rates to inadequate public transport, an insufficient energy system and trade barriers.

“Soaring energy prices have clobbered farmers and producers, forcing up prices for fertilisers and animal feed,” he said. “Over 6,000 agricultural businesses have closed down since 2017. That includes over 5,000 meat, fruit, vegetable and dairy producers with jobs lost, livelihoods destroyed, and futures broken.”

Reed insisted that Labour would back British farmers, reduce the reliance on insecure imports, support high-quality local production and “end the shameful new reality of empty supermarket shelves”.

“It’s time to embrace a decade of national renewal that has the countryside at its heart, and with Keir Starmer as Prime Minister Labour will deliver a new deal for farmers and give them back their future,” he said.

Energy pledge for farmers

Going into specifics, Reed pledged that Labour will create a new publicly owned energy company that will direct public and private investment to harness clean, home-produced wind, wave and nuclear power, meaning cheaper energy for rural businesses. He added that the party would “rewire Britain and get the National Grid moving faster”, allowing farmers to plug their own renewable energy into the grid.

Labour will slash the wait for planning decisions from years to months, Reed continued, and further promised to cut red tape and costs at the country’s borders as well as get British food exports moving. 

On flooding, he said Labour will set up a Cobra-style flood resilience task force that will meet ahead of every winter to protect vulnerable rural communities and farms.

And in a further commitment, Reed said that at least half of all food in the country’s schools, hospitals and prisons would be locally produced or certified to higher environmental standards.