Farming: Crops

Information on the old Defra website currently covers the following:


Business Link crops information and guidance - Visit for comprehensive, plain English guides on crops including:

  • SPS scheme
  • Crop-specific guides
  • Plant Health Controls


Further information

Arable crops grown in the UK

The UK is the fourth largest producer of cereal and oilseed crops in the EU (after France, Germany and Poland) accounting for about 8% of total EU production. It is also the fifth largest producer of sugar beet (after France, Germany, Italy and Poland). For historical reasons dating back to the Commonwealth Sugar Agreement, the UK is the largest importer and refiner of cane sugar.

Within UK agriculture, arable crops account for about 16% of total output. Cereals (and/or oilseeds) are grown on around 70,000 holdings across the country, the majority in the eastern part of England, some in Scotland and a few in Wales and Northern Ireland. This accounts for about 70% of all cropping on agricultural land, though in terms of overall use, grass, rough grazing and forestry between them take around 75% of the total available area. Sugar beet production is limited to some 7,000 quota holders, effectively all in England only.

Wheat and barley are the most important cereal crops grown in the United Kingdom. Production of oats and rye has declined drastically whilst a new cross of rye and wheat, called triticale, has been introduced. All these cereals are well suited to the UK's temperate climate. The majority of cereals are sown in the autumn (called 'winter cereals' because the young plants have to survive the winter in the open fields) the rest being sown in the spring. Winter cereals give a higher yield because the plants are well established before the spring crop is even sown. The sugar beet crop is sown in March/April and harvested from September to December.


Wheat is the most widely grown arable crop in the UK covering around 2 million hectares and producing about 15.5 million tonnes each year. Wheat is a versatile crop and is found in thousands of food products e.g. bread, cakes, biscuits and breakfast cereals.


Barley is grown on around 1.1 million hectares and produces an output of around 6 million tonnes. About 2 million tonnes are used in the production of malt, a key ingredient in beer and whisky. The balance is largely used in animal feeds.

Oil seed rape

The bright yellow flowers of oil seed rape cover 0.5 million hectares each year producing around 1.5 million tonnes of seed. The seed is crushed to extract oil used in the food and animal feed industries, with the residue being used as a high protein animal feed ingredient.


Oats represent around 3% of the total UK cereals area and are mostly sown in the autumn months. About half of the oat crop is milled and used for human consumption (e.g. breakfast cereals, cheese biscuits and haggis), the balance being used for animal feed.

Sugar beet

Around 9 million tonnes of sugar beet is grown on 150,000 hectares of land. The beet produces about 1.5 million tonnes of white sugar and the residues give 750,000 tonnes of animal feed.

Page last modified: 1 April 2009
Page published: 1 July 2006