Contributing £120 billion to the British economy and 64% of the food eaten in the UK, British farming plays a significant role in the local food supply chain, job market, economy, etc. However, the sizeable contribution does not make the industry immune to changes and crises.
The world’s changing geopolitical situation and environment have had an immense impact on the UK’s agricultural and farming industry. After peaking at a little over £10 billion of GDP contribution in 2019, the industry has taken a massive hit. While the first obvious problem appears to be COVID-19, the current issues facing UK farms and farmers result from several factors.
UK Farming Industry Statistics
Before discussing the issues themselves, let’s first look at some major statistics about the industry.
5.4% of the total UK land area is used for farming crops.
The total number of employees on payroll in the UK farming industry has dropped by 1.9% (or 553,000 people) since February 2020.
The total number of self-employed farmers dropped from 138,000 in 2019 to 109,000 in 2020, decreasing over 21%.
Wheat harvest dropped by a whopping 37.5% in 2020 compared to the previous year, while Barley increased by 3.9%.
The total crop area decreased by 5.6% in the UK to just over 3,803 thousand hectares from 4,027.6 thousand hectares in 2019
Horticulture crop area increased by 1.7% in 2020 to 166 thousand hectares. Horticulture crops typically include vegetables grown for human consumption.
The employment for the agriculture industry in the UK has dropped to 1% of total employment by 2020. It has steadily been decreasing over the past several decades.
These are just a few statistics to give you an idea about how things are shaping up in the farming industry in the UK.
Current Issues Facing UK Farms and Farmers
The statistics presented above are understandably grim, but there are multiple problems behind the current situation.
1. Post-Brexit Labour Problems
Irrespective of your political stance on Brexit, there is no denying that this decision will have a lasting impact on the UK market and economy. When it comes to the farming industry, the situation looks uncertain.
Farmers have reportedly been unable to get the workforce they need to operate efficiently through harvest seasons. One farmer is reportedly working with 1/6th of the total workforce he needs because most of his employees came from European nations like Bulgaria and Romania.
While the government is trying to reduce the extent of possible labour shortages, the industry will continue to lag until farmers can attract British citizens to work on farms.
2. Environmentally Unfriendly Practices
The focus on environmental sustainability has highlighted the need for responsible farming. Authorities are urging farmers to cut down run-off to avoid polluting water streams for drinking water.
Irresponsible farming practices have caused extensive soil erosion and water pollution. Given the focus on the environment and climate change, there is a crucial need to change these practices.
3. Climate Change
Climate change itself is one of the major current issues facing UK farms and farmers. There has been an increase in extreme weather in the region over the past few years, which has been detrimental for crops. Unprecedented storms, heat waves, extended winter have all taken a toll on crops.
Considering the latest weather changes, it seems unlikely that the extreme weather conditions will calm down in the coming years. Therefore, farmers are currently in the process of determining ways to work around the weather conditions, if that is even possible.
4. COVID-19’s Lasting Impact
The spread of COVID-19 was one of the last things any government or citizen anticipated. The pandemic is unprecedented for the present generation of farmers and has further worsened the problems due to Brexit and climate change.
The initial uncertainty at the beginning of the pandemic left everyone undecided about industry SOPs. The change in consumer behaviour due to lockdown also had a deep impact on the overall food industry’s supply and demand.
As the country is beginning to come out of the pandemic lockdowns after vaccinations, the industry’s position remains uncertain, especially in light of its economic impact. The combined force of labour shortages and financial losses have driven people out of business, and there is little clarity about how long it will take for the industry to recover.
5. The Shift to Technologically Advanced Methods
Technological advancement within the field is the one issue we are looking forward to because it will likely increase job opportunities and add value. However, not everyone is on the same page. As beneficial as technological advancement is, there are a few things we need to consider when putting it together with farming.
a. A significant number of farmers belong to rural areas and are less likely to adjust to advanced technology.
b. The initial shift to technologically advanced farming techniques will be expensive. Given the heavy financial losses incurred due to Brexit and the pandemic, few people or businesses have the means to pay for it.
c. All technological shifts require skilled training. A full-scale transformation for this purpose will take extensive planning and budget since all farmers will need to be on board.
These are some of the obstacles to the technological shift in the industry. It seems unlikely that the technological shift can be delayed for much longer. It is through these advancements that we can make more sustainable and responsible choices.
The world is in a state of flux, and the current issues facing UK farms and farmers are a direct result of this unpredictable state. The industry is directly impacted by Brexit, climate change, and COVID-19, and the changing best practices are having an indirect impact on their long term sustainability.
Despite the uncertainty, the silver lining here is the availability of job opportunities in the industry. If you are passionate about nature and want to pursue a career involving sustainability, farming is a great sector for you. Applying for jobs in this field will not only help you get your dream job, but it will also minimise the negative impact of several factors.
You can find the best possible farming job opportunities on our website. We specialise in agriculture, horticulture and food industry recruitment and will help you find the perfect job.