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UK Farming - an introduction

Types of farming:

UK Farming mapThe climate and topography of the UK lends itself to two distinct types of farming.

Pastoral farming (the use of grass pasture for livestock rearing) is found in areas of higher rainfall and among the hills, predominantly to the north and west of the UK.

Arable farming (land that can be ploughed to grow crops) is concentrated in the south and east of the UK where the climate is drier and soils are deeper.

Farming systems:

In the UK there are three main approaches adopted by farmers in their farming system. These are defined as organic, conventional and integrated. Organic farming represents around 4% of the farmed area and is based upon the concept of sustainability utilising the farm's own resources. Conventional farming adopts modern technology and utilises other inputs such as pesticides and artificial fertilisers while integrated farming makes the conventional approach sustainable. Most conventional farmers practice integrated farming.

Media characterisation of the UK's farming systems has widely depicted organic farming as good with conventional as bad. This simplification misses the point as in practice a cross over of approaches exist on most farms.

Farms, farmers and the workforce:

In the UK there are approximately 300,000 active farms with an average size of around 57 hectares, much larger than the European average size of approximately 20 hectares. However the UK's high average size is swelled by the impact of Scotland where the average farm size is over 100 hectares. In England average size is around 50 hectares. For Wales and Northern Ireland, sizes are smaller at around 40 hectares.

Despite the relatively large number of farms in the UK, the majority of the agricultural area is farmed by a much smaller number of farmers. Some 41,000 farms (~14% of the total) are larger than 100 hectares and account for over 65% of the agricultural area.

In 2006 the UK farming employed workforce (full-time, part-time and casual employees) amounted to 184,000 persons. There were 152,000 full time farmers with a further 198,000 part-timer owners engaged in some capacity in the farm business. The total farming labour force of 534,000 in 2006 had been broadly stable over the previous five years but was down 80,000 on a decade earlier.

Farming incomes:

UK farming incomes are defined at the industry level by a measure known as Total Income from Farming (TIFF) and at the farm level by a measure known as Net Farm Income. Both measures have exhibited long term decline since the 1960's, reaching a low point in 2000 with average Net Farm Income at just £8700. Since then both measures have risen and for 2006 Net Farm Income has been calculated at £20,600. This compares with median annual earnings for full time employees throughout the UK of just over £22,000 for the year 2002/3.

Farming and the environment:

Farmers are responsible for managing around 75% of the UK's surface area and for maintaining many features that are inherrently perceived as "countryside". Whether they be, hedges, ditches, meadows or copses, all have resulted from centuries of farming activity and today they are closely integrated into farming practice. Regretably this has not always been the case. In the 1970's and 80's farmers responded to government incentives to become more efficient often destroying habitats and countryside features in the process. The reversal of this process in the 1990's is best illustrated by our uk farming conservation database which illustrates the diversity and enthusiasm by which farmers have embraced environmental care

Related links:

UK farming statistics
Farming pictures
Farming news
Farmland biodiversity in practice







Statistics for The farming industry

The farming industry
2000
2001
2002
2003
2004
2005
2006
2007
2008
2009
Agriculture contribution to economy
(£ millions)
6720 6852 7151 7421 7165 5109 5091 5535 7475 6783
% GDP (present value)
(%)
0.8 0.8 0.8 0.8 0.8 0.5 0.5 0.5 0.6 0.5
Imports
(£ millions)
16828 18267 19091 20944 24280 25210 26791 27577 31486 32516
Exports
(£ millions)
8702 8506 8915 9881 10736 10698 11332 11795 13171 14030
Balance of Trade (food)
(£ millions)
-8126 -9761 -10176 -11063 -13544 -14512 -15459 -15671 -18426 -18286
Self sufficiency all foods
(%)
67 63 62.4 63.5 62.3 60.1 59.2 59.9 58.2 60.2
Self sufficiency indigenous foods
(%)
80 75 75.5 76.6 75.0 73.1 72.2 73.1 72.7 71.7
Total Income from Farming
(£ millions)
1499 1661 2228 2839 2558 2171 2536 2886 4793 4373
Average Net Farm Income
(£)
8700 13000 13900 24300 17500 17500 20600 33500
Farmland price England
(£ per hectare)
7406 6915 7172 7654 8651 9249 10974 14152
Farmland price Wales
(£ per hectare)
5192 6513 6498 6107
Farmland price Scotland
(£ per hectare)
2894 3984
Farmland price Northern Ireland
(£ per hectare)
9961 12456 14475 16286 19837
Food manufacturing GVA
(£ millions)
20679 21307 21096 21213 21560 22751
Food wholesaling GVA
(£ millions)
6633 7880 7430 9731 9097 9490
Food retailing GVA
(£ millions)
17947 19221 19782 21294 21744 22925
Food non-residential catering GVA
(£ millions)
18359 21126 20864 21284 21683 22121
Agri food contribution to economy
(% GVA)
7.4 7.3 6.8 6.8 6.6 6.7 6.9
England average FBI
(£)
48100 50900 43300
Scotland average FBI
(£)
38700 34400
Wales average FBI
(£)
26500 31300 36200
N Ireland average FBI
(£)
30100 27200 21600