Follow the links to find out about crops in the UK and how they
have contributed to the development of our society over the last 6,000
Wheat is a grass with a very swollen grain that when ground, produces a flour that is particularly suitable for the production of bread and biscuits. It is the world's most important crop.
Barley is a grass with a swollen grain that is similar to wheat that can be ground to produce a flour suitable for the production of bread. However unlike wheat, barley has always been particularly important in the production of beers and ales.
The word "rape" as applied to oilseed crops is derived from the Latin word rapum that means turnip. Today turnip rapes and the similar but more common swede rapes are grown for their oil and are widely recognised by their bright yellow flowers that can be seen from late april onwards.
Sugar beet is an important crop of arable rotations throughout the major growing regions of the UK. Commonly grown in conjunction with wheat, barley or pulses, sugar beet provides a valuable break crop returning organic matter to the soil and preventing the build up of disease.
Potatoes (Solanum tuberosum) are a useful crop that provide high yields of carbohydrate and protein from their tubers. The plant, which is sown in the spring, grows quickly and the tubers can be harvested throughout the summer and autumn months.
Peas are legumes, part of a family of plants that are able to make use of atmospheric nitrogen to enrich the protein content of both the plant and seed. Legumes do this by utilising bacteria that inhabit nodules in the roots that "fix" the nitrogen.
Beans are legumes (family Leguminosae), a crop that is able to make use of atmospheric nitrogen to enrich the protein content of both the plant and seed. Legumes do this by utilising bacteria that inhabit nodules in the roots that "fix" the nitrogen.
Maize is a domesticated form of a wild grass first cultivated over 5,000 years ago in tropical Mexico that produces an adaptable and productive grain. It has been inextricably linked with the rise of the South American civilizations and following their conquest by the Spanish, it was exported around the world. It was introduced to the UK in the early part of the twentieth century but only as a forage crop.
Grain can either be stored on-farm or at a co-operative store. Co-operative stores provide advantages of scale both in storage and in subsequent marketing but the principles of grain storage are identical wherever.
Grassland is the UK's most important crop by area covering just over half of the entire UK landmass - nearly three times as great as all other crops combined. This dominance in area derives from the relatively wet temperate climate of the UK which favours grass and its growth. In the UK there are few natural climax grasslands - nearly all have resulted from man's past activities.
Grassland management concerns the production and utilisation of grass. In the UK the formal management of grassland can be traced back to the Stone Age, over 5000 years ago as farmers sought to convert grass into useful products, for example milk and meat.
Silage is a form of conserved grass (or other crop) that is made by farmers during the summer months when the grass supply is plentiful and not required for grazing. Silage is fed to cattle and sheep during winter months and is made by preserving the grass under naturally produced acidic conditions which effectively pickle the crop.
Maize is a domesticated form of a wild grass, first cultivated over 5,000 years ago in tropical Mexico that produces an adaptable and productive grain. It has been inextricably linked with the rise of the South American civilizations and following their conquest by the Spanish, it was exported around the world.
Hay making is the longest established method of conserving grass for feeding cattle and sheep through the winter and has been an important function of the farming calendar in the UK for the last six thousand years. Successful haymaking relies on the crop of grass being thoroughly dried before it is baled or stored.
Energy crops are farm-grown crops that can be used to provide heat, electricity and transport fuel. Energy crops produce renewable energy (often considered carbon neutral) and can be broadly divided into those grown for power generation and those grown for transport fuels.
Miscanthus x Giganteus or "Elephant Grass" is a the sterile hybrid between M. sinensis and M. sacchariflorus. It has risen to prominence since the early 1980's as a potential biofuel on account of its high dry weight annual yield that can reach 25t/ha (10t/acre).
Ploughing is a form of cultivation of the ground that helps prepare the soil to create a seedbed. Ploughing typically takes place in the autumn or early spring months and involves turning over the top nine inches of soil. This buries surface debris and loosens the soil so that seeds can be sown.
Drilling is the process where a drill sows seed into rows in the soil, before covering them up. This is an important operation that plays a large part in determining the success of a particular crop.
Rolling is a suprisingly important operation that helps the establishment and growth of crops in the early stages of their growth. However, timing is critical if benefits are to be achieved.
The dry material of any crop consists largely of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen that have come from the air and from water as well as a number of essential nutrients that have been absorbed from the soil.
Tramlines are parallel lines in crops that allow farmers to drive through their fields to fertilise and spray accurately without causing damage to surrounding plants. The lines of a tramline are usually about 30 cm wide and 2 metres apart while the distance between tramlines can vary from 12 metres to 30 metres.
Harvest is usually the busiest time of year for arable farmers and in the UK most crops are harvested in July, August and the early part of September. For much of the past 6,000 years crops have been harvested by hand although the Romans did develop a machine that stripped the ears of the corn from the straw.
There are few subjects in UK agriculture that have aroused as much suspicion as the spraying of pesticides. Popularly characterised as "highly toxic", pesticides have struggled to gain acceptance in the minds of the public despite the fact that all have been exhaustively tested and are often less hazardous than many of the chemicals that we consume in our daily diet.
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