Research article

How UK farmland sizes up

With a large area of farmland and high domestic demand, the UK has the means post-Brexit to boost production and reduce dependency on imports

With more than 65 million people, the UK has one of the largest and most densely concentrated populations in Europe. Of the 11 countries analysed here, it has the third largest area of agricultural land, equating to 71% of total land mass. This is the highest of this group of countries, and well above the average of around 55%.

UK agriculture benefits from strong domestic demand and a large volume of farmland. However, the sector has comparatively lower production. The UK’s aggregate output volume per acre of agricultural land ranks as third quartile (due to a high portion of marginal grazing ground) in comparison with the other countries, despite second-quartile ranking for the unit value of output.

(click to expand)

Source: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, World Bank, United Nations Population Division and Eurostat | Note: The map is a graphical representation of the percentage split in agricultural and non-agricultural land. It is not a guide to where each land-type is located

The UK also has the lowest per capita of production and is the most reliant on imports, with 70 to 75% of the food supply serviced by domestic output. For most countries, production exceeds domestic demand needs.

Increasing efficiency to make post-Brexit margins competitive will be key to closing the productivity gap with top-quartile countries. The UK’s reliance on imports, coupled with below average food consumption per capita, presents the sector with an opportunity to better align output with domestic food demand.

Figure 4

FIGURE 4Production per capita Denmark is the EU’s agricultural superpower

Source: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

■ Farmland values UK farmland is second only to the Netherlands in terms of value. Over the past 10 years, Eastern Europe recorded the strongest capital growth, averaging just under 20% (compound annual growth).

■ Agricultural land The UK has the third largest agricultural area, behind France and Spain. Of this, 64% is grassland and 36% is cropping ground. Of the 11 countries analysed, the Netherlands has the most balanced split of the two.

■ Food production Irish production is most weighted towards livestock (70% of output), yet with comparatively low efficiency. Denmark exports the largest share of output, despite grazing land being less than 10% of total agricultural area.

■ Environment With farmland equating to 71% of landmass, UK farming can positively influence the market developing around natural capital. Also, the prevalence of UK grassland is suited to the initiatives identified by the UK Government.

■ Demand With the second highest population density, the efficiency in which the UK deploys its stock of agricultural assets is, and will remain, key to meeting demand, as well as increasing diversification in land use away from agriculture.

■ UK food production Although the UK’s aggregate production is in line with the peer group average, it has the lowest level of agricultural output per capita and hence the highest reliance on food imports.

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