Agriculture of Great Britain

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Agriculture of Great Britain

Compared with most other major countries, Great Britain devotes a relatively small part of its labour force to agriculture, and the nation must import a major share of its food supply. About 25% of Britain's land is arable, and almost half is suitable for meadows and pastures. The contribution of agriculture to gross national product is about 0.5 per cent. About 2% of the labour force produces 60% percent of the country's food needs.

Agriculture in Great Britain is intensive. It is based on high-quality farm machinery and utilization of fertilizers.

The 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.

Livestock continues to be the largest sector of the farming industry. Income from livestock and dairy products is about three times that from crops. The United Kingdom raises some of the world's finest pedigreed livestock and is the leading exporter of pedigreed breeding animals. Most of the internationally famous breeds of cattle, sheep, hogs, and farm horses originated in the United Kingdom. In the north-west of England, Wales and Scotland, farmers keep cattle and sheep. In the south-west of England, the rich grass is ideal for feeding dairy cows. Pig production is carried in most areas but it is particularly important in eastern Yorkshire and southern England, north-east Scotland and Northern Ireland. Poultry industry is growing rapidly and is becoming more important.

One quarter of agricultural land in the UK is used to grow crops such as cereals, oilseed rape, sugar beet and horticultural crops such as fruit, vegetables and ornamental crops. Wheat is the most widely grown arable crop in the UK. The other important crops are oats, barley, potatoes. The UK is the fourth largest producer of sugar beet in the EU. The counties of Kent, in the south east, Worcestershire in the west and Lincolnshire in the east midlands of England are renowned for their fruit and vegetables. Scotland is known for the largest concentration of raspberry plantations in the world.

Lying on the continental shelf, the British Isles are surrounded by waters mainly less than 90 m deep, which serve as excellent fishing grounds and breeding grounds for fish. Small fishing villages are found all along the coast. Fish farms in the UK produce many thousands of tonnes of fish each year, most of which is used for human consumption. They are located in lochs and on the coast, largely in Scotland, and inland, often in man made ponds in England. The main species farmed are brown and rainbow trout, salmon, carp and to a lesser extent eels, crayfish and oysters.Shellfish is also expanding area of activity.

In the UK there are approximately 300,000 farms with an average size of around 57 hectares. Small farms in Britain are usually mixed farms on which farmers grow crops and keep animals.

Today the main tendency in agricultural development of Great Britain is that small farms are gradually disappearing because they cannot compete with modern industrial farms based on up-to-date agricultural machinery.

British farmers are working hard to earn their living, to maximize the yield and minimize the cost of production, to supply the population of the country with various foodstuffs of high quality, to ensure further progress in all agricultural branches.

Answer the questions.

1) Is Great Britain an agricultural country?

2) How many people are involved in farming?

3) What are the main types of farming in the UK?

4) What farm animals are bred by the British farmers?

5) What are the principal crops?

6) What are the main fishing grounds?

7) What is the main tendency in the development of agriculture in Great Britain?


7. a) Read the following information about agriculture in some other English-speaking countries.



Nearly half of the country is a farmland, however only 21 per cent is arable. The main agricultural products are corn, soybeans, wheat, cotton, tobacco, fruit, vegetables and cattle breeding. The U.S.A. is the biggest supplier of grains (wheat, corn, oats), dairy products, meat, vegetable oils and soybeans in spite of the fact that less than 3 per cent of population are involved in agriculture.


Canada’s economy is traditionally based on natural resources and agriculture. Almost half the land area of Canada is covered by forests. Although only 7 per cent of the land is suitable for farming, agriculture is the world’s fifth largest producer of wheat after the USA, China and India and the second largest wheat exporter after the USA. 80 per cent of Canada’s farmland is in the prairies. Other important agricultural items are livestock production, oats, vegetables, fruit, tobacco, dairy products and leather. Less than 3% of Canada's population work on farms.


Australia belongs to the top exporters of beef, lamb, wool and wheat, although only 9 per cent of land is arable. Other agricultural items are barley, oats, hay, sugar, wine, fruit and vegetables. Only 7 per cent of the population work in agriculture.


New Zealand’s prosperity is founded on dairy farming. The pleasant climate allows cattle and sheep to stay outside even in winter. Grass grows faster in New Zealand than in most countries and is called the green gold there. Only 2 per cent of land are arable and main crops are grains. Above 10 per cent people work in agriculture.

b) Complete the table (for Britain see ex.5) and compare agriculture in different English-speaking countries.

  the UK the USA Canada Australia New Zealand
Arable land (%)          
Agricultural products          
Labour force (% of population)          


Read and translate the following text.

The Importance of Agriculture to the UK


Over 6000 years ago the first farmers started clearing the native wildwood that covered the UK. They grew crops, reared livestock and learned techniques for storing produce so that food could be made available throughout the year. Later they settled permanently in particular areas and with adequate food supplies started to develop other skills; civilisation was born.

For centuries agriculture was the principal industry. In the Middle Ages around 30% of national income was derived from the wool clip alone - many of most important towns and cities owe their heritage to the trade of that period. Later as wool was processed and converted to cloth, innovation abounded and the seeds of the industrial revolution were sown.

During the 19th century industrialisation brought an end to the agrarian society. An improving transport infrastructure provided fresh food for fast growing towns so that by 1850 more than 50% of the population had become urban dwellers. But while agriculture remained fundamental in the supply of foodstuffs its influence waned in the economy as a whole - by 1900 its share of national income had fallen to just 6%. Over the last century the same trends have continued and today few need to be directly engaged in agriculture.

Relative to the economy as a whole, agriculture has been declining for centuries and today the industry generates only a tiny proportion of national income - around 0.5%. Nonetheless agriculture remains important.

Over half a million people are directly engaged in agriculture either in a full or part-time employment. This is a significant part of overall rural employment and one that helps to maintain rural communities. Agriculture is at the start of the UK food chain. Even though the value of agricultural produce is relatively low, a complex infrastructure of processing, distribution and retailing are subsequently dependent upon it. Without a domestic agriculture, the financial viability of a large part of the food chain would be under threat.

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