Distribution of Farming Types in the UK

Summary

• The world has 570 million farms
• The UK has about 212,000 farms
• Arable farming, pastoral farming, mixed farming and market gardening are farming types distributed in various regions across the UK
• Arable farming is highly distributed in the south east areas of the United Kingdom
• Pastoral farming is distribute din the west areas, East Anglia, Yorkshire, England, South west areas, highlands or uplands, etc.
• Mixed farming mainly occurs in slightly wet and warm climates in Central England and Scotland, among other areas across the UK
• Market gardening occurs in East Anglia and areas near London and Birmingham for easy access to markets.

According to the World Census of Agriculture, the world is home to about 570 million farms worldwide. Over 500 million of the farms worldwide are family farms. Over 475 million farms are less than 2 hectares in size, but operate a small share of farmland worldwide. The United Kingdom has set aside 69% of its land area for farming.

The UK employs about 476,000 people (1.5% of the country’s workforce) in the agricultural sector. The industry generates about 0.62% of the country’s gross value added of about £9.9 billion. However, it produces less than 60% of the food its population consumes. Agriculture is mostly distributed in rural areas, especially in the South West where livestock is kept and East Anglia where crops are grown.

The United Kingdom has about 212,000 farms varying in size between 20 hectares to 100 hectares. The country has low farm earnings despite heavy investment in subsidies and fertile soil, high technology, and skilled manpower. This has been attributed to low prices at the gate of farms. Many young people fail to join the industry due to high prices of land, low earnings and lack of enough farmland to let.

The average age of Britons with farm ownership is 59. Efforts have been made to sustain profits and supplement the income of farmers through organic farming and diversification of income-generating activities from purely farming.

With rising fears about energy security, fossil fuel prices and climate change, farmers have the opportunity to exploit biofuels for alternative sources of renewal energy. Increasingly, farmers are made aware to be important custodians of wildlife and the British countryside.

Regional Variations

Places in Wales, Scotland, England and Northern Ireland with similar terrain have minor differences in the farming practices in use. However, the quality of specific farmland and geography of any given area impact agriculture in the areas. 80% of farmland in Wales and 84% in Scotland are regarded as ‘Less Favoured Areas’.

‘Less Favoured Areas’ have low agricultural yield while the converse have high yields. The low yield areas mainly comprise of hill farms and upland moors, explaining why dairy and sheep farming mainly occur in the regions. Fields on the southern and eastern areas, including England are larger, flatter and more open, making them ideal for growing cereals. On the other hand, the western and northern areas are hillier and thus ideal for livestock farming.

Distribution of Farming Types

Various physical factors such as climate and topography or relief affect the type of farming adopted in any given area. The factors influence the type of crops farmers can grow in any region or animals that can thrive in a particular landscape in the UK. Proximity to markets, among other human factors, can influence certain farming types such as market gardening.

Map of Farming Type Distribution in the UK

4 Major Types of Farming and Distribution in the UK

1. Arable Farming

Arable farming involves crop production. Various factors such as soil, light, water, nutrients, air and climate affect the growth of crops. This type of farming is often practiced in the south east areas that enjoy warm summers with low, fertile and flat land. The areas also have good transport networks and farms located close to markets in large cities and towns such as London.

The United Kingdom grows cereals such as oats, wheat and barley. It also grows pulse crops such as peas and beans; root vegetables such as sugar beet and potatoes; and forage crops such as kale and rape, vetches and cabbages. Fruits grown in the country include pears and apples. Hay is grown for use as animal feed.

Arable crops are often grown in summer, spring or even autumn when seeds are started. Frost-hardy crops such as vetch, beans and cereals (such as winter wheat) are usually grown in autumn. Crops sown in spring are susceptible to drought in June or May. Traditional techniques of sowing seeds such as dibbling, broadcasting, ploughing-in and drilling are often used. Drilling is the most economical, especially in dry conditions.

2. Pastoral Farming

Pastoral farming involves keeping livestock for wool, meat, milk and eggs. Historically, animals such as donkey were kept for labour. The United Kingdom’s major agricultural output are livestock products. Pigs, cattle, poultry and sheep are commonly kept as meat animals. Sheep are kept for wool while alpacas and goats are kept for exotic wools such as angora and cashmere. Poultry are kept for eggs while cattle for milk.

Many farm animals bred in the UK are kept for specific purposes. For instance, early-maturing cattle breeds are bred for beef because they can produce high yields. Some breeds also store fats in muscles instead of layers, making them ideal for beef. On the other hand, dairy animals have high milk yield. Surplus dairy herd calves in the UK make up British beef output because calves are required for dairy animals to produce milk.

Cattle Farming – The UK is home to about 17,000 dairy farms. Most dairy farms are located in the west of the country. Climate in the west of England and the south west areas of the country is wet and warm. The land is flat or hilly, but not steep. The western region of the country has good road networks for easy transport of farm produce to nearby markets. England has an average herd of 86 cows, Scotland 102 cows and Wales 75 cows. The British Friesian is kept for milk while Aberdeen Angus for beef.

Pig Farming – Pigs are mainly kept in East Anglia and Yorkshire. The UK has about 4,600 farms that rear pigs. Although it produces 90% of the pork it consumes, it is only self-sufficient enough to produce 40% of its ham and bacon. Pig farms rear the British landrace, large White, Cumberland, British Saddleback or Welsh, Wild Boar and Small White, among other popular pig breeds. Falling under the ‘1976 Dangerous Wild Animals Act’, farmers must be permitted by the local authority to breed pigs. Slurry is another by-product of pig farming.

Distribution of Farming Types in the UK

Sheep Farming – The UK is home to more than 41,000 farms that keep sheep, with about 50% of ewes reared on upland farms or hills. The Lake District, Snowdonia and Pennines in the Scottish Highlands’ and Wales’ heather moors and National Parks have many sheep farms. The Downs in Kent and Romney Marsh in the lowlands are also home to sheep farms. The steep land and climate in the areas are not ideal for arable farming. Although UK imports lamb from New Zealand, it is the largest lamb producer in Europe.

Today, lambing is done indoors to promote earlier lambing due to reduced rates of replacement and mortality. It also helps protect grassland and give it time to rest and grow, resulting in higher rates of stocking and improved early growth. However, the technique is costly. The trampling of sheep on heather moor prevents it from growing into scrub woodland, and slows the spreading of bracken

Goats and Poultry – The UK also has a few farms that breed goats for milk and meat, and poultry for eggs on a small scale.

3. Mixed Farming

Mixed farming involves the growing of crops and keeping of animals on the same farm. Areas that support mixed farming have relief and climate ideal for keeping animals and growing crops. The soils are fertile and land flat while the climate is warm and slightly wet. The regions have good transport networks for easy access to markets. The farming technique is practiced in Central England and Central Scotland, among other regions across the UK.

4. Market Gardening

Market gardening involves growing of high value crops such as vegetables, fruits and flowers in close proximity to ready markets. Finance is another important factor to engaging in the farming practice. It is commonly practiced in East Anglia and areas near Birmingham and London with good transport networks.

References:
  1. FAO. 2013a. 2000 World Census of Agriculture. Analysis and International Comparison of the Results (1996-2005). FAO Sta ti s ti ca l Devel opment Ser i es 13. Rome.
  2. Government of Albania. 2012. Preliminary Results of Agriculture Census, 2012. Ti rana, Instituti i Statisikave.
  3. FAO. 2001. Supplement to the report on the 1990 World Census of Agriculture. International Comparison and Primary Results by Country (1986-1995). FAO Sta ti s ti c a l Devel opment Ser i es 09a . Rome
  4. Nix, Hill, Williams and Bough: Land and Estate Management. Chichester: Packard Publishing Ltd. Third edition 1999. ISBN 978-1-85341-111-3
  5. Soffe, Richard J: The Agricultural Notebook, 20th Edition. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2003 (reprinted 2006). ISBN 978-0-632-05829-7
  6. Soffe, Richard J: The Countryside Notebook. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2005. ISBN 978-1-4051-1231-4
  7. Spencer, Aubrey John: Spencer’s Smallholdings and Allotments Acts 1908–1926. Third edition. London: Stevens and Sons, 1927.
  8. Watson, James and More, James: Agriculture: The Science and Practice of British Farming. Edinburgh and London: Oliver and Boyd, Ninth Edition 1949.
  9. Williams, Cardwell and Williams: Scammell and Densham’s Law of Agricultural Holdings. London: LexisNexis Butterworths, 2007. ISBN 978-1-4057-1797-7
IMAGE SOURCES:
  1. Map of Farming Type Distribution in the UK – Image Courtesy of BBC UK
  2. Distribution of Farming Types in the UK – Image Courtesy of sjm1984