Arable farming is central to the UK’s agricultural landscape. Thanks to a favourable climate, fertile soil, and various farming techniques, the country can grow a wide range of excellent quality crops. In this article, we take a closer look at arable farming in the UK, its importance to the economy and our food security – and why farms need the right combination of insurance cover.
- What is arable farming?
- What types of arable farming exist in the UK?
- How many arable farms are there in the UK?
- What types of machines are used in arable farming?
- What kinds of insurance do arable farms need?
At its simplest level, arable farming is about growing crops. These span everything from wheat, barley, oats, and other cereals to fruit, vegetables, and sugar beet. While most crops are grown for human consumption, some, like hay and fodder beet, are used for animal feed. Others are grown for industrial purposes; these include hemp, which can be used to make paper, textiles, and construction materials, and oilseed rape, which is used to make biodiesel, lubricants, and oils. While there are different types of arable farming practices, most aim to maximise crop yield and quality while ensuring land remains fertile and sustainable.
In 2021, DEFRA found that crops constituted 40% of the UK’s agricultural production. Among these crops, cereals emerged as the most valuable, totalling £4 billion. Following cereals, producing vegetables and flowers generated a revenue of £3.2 billion. Industrial crops, potatoes, and others accounted for smaller portions of the overall agricultural output.
The success of arable farming is closely tied to weather conditions. Very wet weather can damage yields, while extremely dry conditions can mean crops don’t have the water they need to flourish. An increasingly variable climate means insurance for sown crops is more important than ever.
There are many different types of arable farming in the UK. The crops grown depend on the climate in different parts of the country, the quality of the soil, and market demand for certain produce. Common focuses for arable farming include:
- Cereal farming. Crops such as wheat, barley, oats, and rye are widely grown as staple foods, animal feed, and raw materials for various industries. Cereal farming requires careful management of soil fertility, pest control, and crop rotation.
- Oilseed farming. Oilseed crops such as rapeseed and linseed are grown to produce edible oils, biofuels, and industrial lubricants. Oilseed farming requires specific practices like seed processing, oil extraction, and oil quality testing.
- Vegetable and fruit farming. Vegetable and fruit farming produces a rich range of crops, including potatoes, carrots, peas, apples, strawberries, and many more. Vegetable and fruit farming requires specialised techniques like irrigation, pest management, and post-harvest handling to ensure the quality and freshness of the produce.
- Sugar beet farming. This important cash crop is processed to produce sugar, a staple of the food industry. Sugar beet farming involves careful cultivation, harvesting, and transportation of the crop to one of the four remaining British Sugar processing factories in Bury St Edmunds (Suffolk), Cantley (Norfolk), Wissington (Norfolk), and Newark (Nottinghamshire).
In some areas, farms practise mixed farming of growing crops and rearing livestock (known as pastoral farming).
It isn’t easy to find a precise figure for how many arable farms there are in the UK. The Agriculture in the UK Evidence Pack published by DEFRA says there are 216,000 farm holdings of all kinds across the UK. These farms include everything from family-owned smallholdings to large farms owned by major companies. The average farm size is 81 hectares, although over half are under 20 hectares in size.
The total croppable area in 2021 was 6.1 million hectares – just over one-third of the Utilised Agricultural Area of 17.2 million hectares.
Arable farming heavily relies on mechanisation, especially when done on a large scale. Modern agricultural machinery is a high-value investment that needs to be properly insured. Commonly used equipment includes:
- Tractors. The workhorses of arable farms, these versatile machines are used for many tasks, including ploughing, harrowing, planting, spraying, and harvesting.
- Seed drills. These are used to plant seeds at the desired depth and spacing. Seed drills help to ensure uniform seed distribution, improve germination, and assist crop growth. This type of equipment also helps to conserve seeds and reduce waste.
- Harvesters. These specialised machines are designed to cut and gather crops efficiently during harvest time. Different types of harvesters are used for specific crops, such as combine harvesters for cereal crops, potato harvesters for potatoes, and vegetable harvesters for various vegetables. These machines speed up the harvesting process and reduce the amount of labour required.
- Sprayers. These apply fertilisers, herbicides, and pesticides to arable crops. Sprayers ensure precise and uniform application, helping to control weeds, pests, and diseases. Modern sprayers often use advanced technologies, such as GPS guidance systems, to improve accuracy and reduce chemical wastage.
- Irrigation systems. In arable farming, irrigation is crucial for ensuring adequate water supply to crops, especially during dry periods. Various irrigation systems are available, including sprinkler systems and equipment that delivers drip irrigation or centre-pivot irrigation. These systems help reduce water usage while enhancing crop growth.
- Grain storage and handling equipment. Arable farms require machinery and equipment for grain storage and handling. Grain dryers, elevators, conveyors, and silos are used to safely store harvested crops and transport them for processing or sale.
Insurance plays a vital role in managing the risks associated with arable farming. These are some of the types of cover you should consider when taking out farm insurance:
- Crop insurance. This can protect your crops against damage caused by various perils, including hail damage.
- Material damage insurance. Cover for farm buildings, contents, stock, and other assets including grain drying equipment.
- Agricultural vehicle insurance. To protect your agricultural vehicles, machinery, equipment (fixed GPS systems), commercial vehicles and private cars.
- Agricultural & horticultural credit insurance. This protects you against insolvency if your customers can’t or won’t pay you.
- Public liability insurance. This is essential for arable farms to protect against claims made against you for third-party bodily injury, property damage, or other liabilities.
- Employer’s liability insurance. If your arable farm has employees, it is a legal requirement to have employer’s liability insurance. This covers claims made by employees who suffer injuries or illnesses in the course of their work.
- Environmental impairment liability insurance. This cover includes legal, clean-up, and reinstatement costs in the event of a pollution incident.
Expert advice on arable farming insurance
Arable farming is a vital component of the UK’s agricultural industry. A diverse range of cultivated crops and increasingly advanced farming practices contribute to the country’s food security and economic growth.
With the ever-present risks in farming, robust agricultural insurance is crucial for arable farms to mitigate potential financial losses and ensure continuity of operations. To learn more, contact Alan Boswell Group on 01603 21800 to learn how we can tailor your insurance cover to the needs of your arable farm.
Alan Boswell Group has supported farmers for many years. Our agricultural expertise, and dedicated in-house underwriting team, ensure that we can deliver the insurance cover you need to safeguard the success of your arable farm for years to come.