Guest Post: The State of Agriculture in the UK


Friends and esteemed readers, I love agriculture. Even knowing my next job may not be in ag, I still foster a deep passion for it. When I was approached about sharing the story of progress in growing the UK’s agricultural industry, I was honored (or honoured?)! (<– That’s a lot of punctuation in a small space. Is that grammatically correct? I’ll Google it later.)

Agriculture is a global industry, and what happens elsewhere in the world can impact food production in North America! It’s fascinating (and uplifting) to hear about progress happening on other continents. Enjoy this piece by a talented writer from across the pond, Nikki.  She describes the exciting and dynamic “cultivation” of agriculture in the United Kingdom!

The State of Agriculture in the UK United Kingdom

Farming in the UK A Success

Agriculture may not be the most glamorous business sector in the UK but it is definitely one of the most important. It accounts for the employ of over half a million people, not to mention the fact that half of the food consumed in Britain is also produced here. In order for Britain to succeed in the years ahead and put the credit crunch behind us, we need our farms to be strong and successful. This fact has finally been recognised by our government.

Moving Forward

Recently the Prime Minister David Cameron has promised to nurture the nation’s agricultural industry. The government plans to create new opportunities to earn money back here in Britain. At a European level, they plan to push for more of the Common Agricultural Policy to be spent on environment and local community schemes. Cameron has recognised the vital role farmers play in environmental conservation so farmers are now to be compensated for environmental work, in addition to their vital role in producing food. At a national level, there are also plans to introduce “conservation credits” so that custodians of the natural world can help developers make good their obligations. In the South West, the government are funding a scheme to clean up the River Fowey – and save local customers money on their bills – by paying people to adopt new farming techniques.

Barriers

If farming is to continue to flourish barriers, such as the difficulties of international trade mentioned above, must be removed. The high cost of entry into farming presents a significant barrier. Land prices in the United Kingdom are high and there are fewer and fewer farms for sale regardless. Another problem is that with each generation, fewer young people can afford the rising cost of entry into farming and more are discouraged by low earnings. Discouraging the youth has resulted in the average age of the British farm holder now being 59. This must change for agriculture to succeed.

Opening Doors

The label “Made in Britain” is something the nation should be proud of and see more of in checkout aisles overseas. This may soon be a reality as the Prime Minister is negotiating new trade deals in a number of different countries, and attempting to remove barriers for our beef and lamb in Russia. The Government are also sending ministers out far and wide from Thailand to Germany to show off our produce in hopes of increasing agricultural exports. We are seeing results: in just one week earlier this year, Newton Abbot-based Westaways flew 43,000 sausages to China and Japan. All in all, British food and drink exports are now worth £18 billion a year and will hopefully continue to grow.

So, what does this mean for those of us concerned about the future of agriculture in North America?

For starters, we can see a lot of the same problems for up-and-coming farmers.

  • Here in the U.S., it is incredibly hard for new groups to break into agriculture. Agricultural land is at an all-time low, making it harder for new competitors to get ahold of arable ground. Oftentimes, competition against existing farmers for growing space is the biggest limitation to those attempting to enter production agriculture.
  • Young farmers (even ones whose family have a long tradition of farming) must find new ways to stay competitive. This means being smart with marketing your product, and may sometimes lead to increasing production or diversifying to maintain a decent profit margin.

I also like that they’re working on a “Made in Britain” program. While agriculturalists in the U.S. are no strangers to Country of Origin Labeling (COOL), the idea of heralding “grown here” foods is lovely. The US is significantly larger and we’re more likely to see it on the state level than the national, but being proud of our local/regional/national products is vital to fostering recognition for our agriculture.

This could also impact the global markets that farmers in the US and Canada are competing against in the future. I’m always happy to see agriculture thriving, but it will be interesting to see if further nurturing UK agriculture will influence the price of commodities produced here in North America.

To my agriculture savvy readers, how else do you think the state of UK agriculture could impact American and, in general, North American agriculture? What do you take away from this article?

For my readers who maybe aren’t as versed in agriculture and food production, do you have any questions? Does this make you think about farming and ranching in the U.S. any differently?

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