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Growing and crops

Tractor spraying crops in a field

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. Our goal is to work with farmers and growers to ensure crops are produced sustainably and the industry is profitable and able to adapt to climate change.

In addition to conventional crop systems, Defra is also responsible for ensuring the UK meets its legal obligations for organic production. We support the UK organic farming industry to deliver benefits for the environment, the rural economy and the consumer.

Key facts and figures

  • Almost 5 million hectares of agricultural land in the UK is used for growing crops.
  • Cereals, such as wheat, barley and oilseeds make up almost 80% of this, other arable crops, such as proteins and sugar beet make up 13%, horticulture (fruit, vegetables and ornamentals) make up 4% while potatoes use 3% of the land.
  • The UK is the fourth largest producer of cereals and oilseed crops in the EU, accounting for around 8% of total EU production. Wheat, barley and oilseed rape are the most important combinable crops grown in the UK.
  • The UK is the fourth largest EU producer of sugar beet. There are around 4500 sugar beet growers in the UK, contracted to supply British Sugar.
  • The UK is just under 60% self sufficient in vegetables and just over 10% self sufficient in fresh fruit.
  • The is self sufficient in fresh potatoes but produces only half the processed or frozen potatoes consumed.
  • In 2008 UK organic land area was over 700,000 hectares and there were almost 8000 organic operators certified.
  • The UK has the second largest consumption of organic produce in the EU.
  • Vineyard areas in the UK are currently increasing at about 10% per annum.

The current situation and background

The production and sale of most crops produced in the UK are regulated by the EU through the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). When the CAP was reformed in 2003, the link between subsidy and production was broken (decoupled) leaving farmers free to produce for the market. At the same time, the Single Payment Scheme was introduced to replace eleven different payment schemes for livestock, arable and horticultural crops (excluding permanent fruit, vegetables and nursery crops). In addition, for fruit and vegetables, CAP support is available under the EU Fruit and Vegetables Regime for Producer Organisations. Potato production has remained outside the CAP and so does not receive any EU financial support.

The Rural Payments Agency (RPA), an executive agency of Defra, is generally responsible for implementing CAP schemes in England and certain other schemes through the UK. The RPA’s website provides information relating to these payments including guidance and the necessary forms.

The EU CAP regimes for crops are complex and Defra works within the EU to bring about simplification and reform to ensure they deliver good value for farmers, taxpayers, consumers and the environment alike. This will help to ensure a competitive, thriving and sustainable agriculture sector that is able to rise to the challenges and opportunities of the future. For example the UK was instrumental in achieving reforms to EU regulation of the sugar industry. This resulted in a more streamlined, sustainable and competitive industry where the UK beet sugar producer has emerged as one of the most efficient in the EU. Defra will continue to work closely with the industry in this period to ensure a future CAP has viable, competitive farming at its heart, ensuring a level playing field and building a stronger European agriculture sector that is free to farm, and is able to compete in global markets.

Defra is working with the fruit and vegetables industry to increase the domestic production and consumption of fruit and vegetables. Defra has established an industry taskforce to identify and overcome the barriers to increased production and consumption. The task force is expected to report later in 2010.

Organic farming is supported in England through the Organic Entry Level strand of Environmental Stewardship, managed by Natural England. The organic element can also be included under the Higher Level Stewardship Scheme. Separate schemes are available for farmers in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. EU law requires that those engaged in organic production are licensed by either the Member State or an approved organic control body. In the UK, operators must register with an organic control body. There are seven UK based organic control bodies currently approved by Defra (Soil Association Certification Ltd, Organic Farmers and Growers, the Organic Food Federation, Quality Welsh Food Certification Ltd, the Biodynamic Agricultural Association, the Scottish Organic Producers Association and Asisco).

Relevant legislation and regulations

  • The Business Link website provides comprehensive, plain English guides on crops including the Single Payment Scheme, crop-specific guidance and plant health controls
  • The Business Link website also provides guides for organic farmers and those considering converting to organic farming.
  • European Commission marketing standards for fresh fruit and vegetables are enforced by the RPA. Guidance on these standards can be found on the RPA website.

Page last modified: 31 December 2010