GE24: Farming for Britain’s environment

14 June 2024

Our farmers and growers are at the forefront of ensuring nature thrives alongside sustainable, climate-friendly farm businesses. Our general election manifesto – Farming for Britain’s Future – calls on the next government to help create the right environment for this to take place.

Our farmers and growers have shaped and maintained our iconic countryside for generations. Our natural world is of vital importance to us all and our natural resources are precious. Farmers and growers are continually working to protect our world while producing our food.

Farmers and growers are the custodians of our iconic countryside, managing around 70% of England’s land and carrying out a huge amount of work to protect and enhance the landscape, encourage wildlife, benefit soil and water, remove carbon from the atmosphere, and allow people to enjoy the great outdoors.

Part of the solution

Agriculture is uniquely placed to be part of the solution to climate change as both an emissions source and a sink.

To support farmers and growers on their journey to net zero, we need government to match its ambitions with policies that support farmers and growers to increase their efficient use of resources, and provide support to understand their emission sources through GHG audits and take further actions to decarbonise their businesses.

What the public think

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79% think farmers have an important role to play in tackling climate change and balancing carbon emissions.

An shield icon with leaves in the centre, indicating a custodian of the countryside

89% say farmers have an important role to play in protecting our countryside and natural environment.

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86% say farmers are very important to the future of rural communities.

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66% think the government should support farmers to improve farms' role as flood defences.

Robust, data-based science 

Research and innovation for adaptation is vital to understand the impact of climate change on UK agriculture and enable a range of technologies, tools, practices, and measures to be developed based on robust science, and applied commercially on farm.

Many British farmers want to measure their own farm GHG (greenhouse gas) footprints, but confusion arises through the sheer number of carbon calculators and the divergence of results each can give for the same farm.

Standardising carbon calculators would be a big step forward in helping farmers know their starting point on the journey to net zero and supporting them on that journey.

Renewable energy production

Alongside this, farm businesses are ideally placed to play an increasing role in renewable energy production through the growth of energy crops and the production of power through anaerobic digestion, solar panels and on-farm wind power.

As well as increasing energy resilience in the sector, this would also help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and boost the resilience and sustainability of businesses. But renewable distribution and construction impacts must be addressed if farm businesses are to play their role in this, with both the provision of the necessary infrastructure to rural areas and the cost of access holding businesses back.

Preserving our natural resources

Water and soil are two of our most vital natural resources for both food production and for our wildlife, and farmers and growers work constantly to maintain and enhance the quality of both. Well managed soils deliver many benefits, including storage of carbon, water regulation and resilience to climate change. It is crucial farmers and growers are rewarded properly for the work they do to maintain and enhance soil health.

Collecting water on farm

Access to a clean, reliable source of water is crucial for all farming and growing businesses.

Policies that make it easier for farmers and growers to collect and store surplus water on farm, and ensure food production has a secure and fair share of water all year round, will help build business resilience and improve food security.

Managing flood risk

The work farmers do in helping manage flood risk must also be planned and fairly rewarded, as must the constant work to reduce agriculture’s impact on water quality.

Good water quality in our nation’s rivers is of paramount importance to everyone. Farming has already made significant progress, with a 75% reduction in serious pollution incidents year-on-year compared to 2000, and farmers will continue to adapt and make improvements on their farms.

It is vital that future farming schemes enable farmers to invest in new technology and infrastructure to tackle potential pollution issues.

Public good

There is also a growing body of research showing that people gain both physical and mental health, and a wider sense of wellbeing, from being close to nature through active pursuits, like walking, or from looking out across attractive green spaces from homes, workplaces and while travelling.

Providing access to the countryside also allows farmers to talk to people about where their food comes from and helps them make informed and healthy choices about the food they buy.

NFU asks

1. REDUCING GREENHOUSE GAS EMISSIONS: Boost a range of incentives to reduce agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions, by driving productivity, improving energy efficiency, and reducing the impact of inputs like feed, fertiliser and fuel, while producing more climate-friendly food and increasing green energy use.

2. ACCESS TO WATER: Access to water for livestock and crop production in times of shortages to be guaranteed, reflecting water’s vital role in food production and food security.

3. FLOODING: Plan for, and reward farmers fairly for their role in, mitigating flood risk and protecting adjacent towns and cities, and commit to the proactive management of our watercourses.

4. RENEWABLE ENERGY: Support a growing agricultural contribution to renewable energy generation and faster, affordable access to rural electricity grid connections.

5. COUNTRYSIDE ACCESS: Reward for farmers for maintaining, protecting and enhancing our natural environment so everyone can experience the mental health benefits of access to our beautiful countryside.

6. ENVIRONMENTAL MARKETS: The development of environmental markets which work alongside domestic food, energy and fibre production, have clear rules and standards to allow farmers and buyers to take part with confidence, are accessible across a range of farm sizes and business structures, and fairly reward farmers for the delivery of environmental goods.

To see our asks in more detail, visit: Farming for Britain's Future: our election manifesto

This page was first published on 03 June 2024. It was updated on 14 June 2024.