Farming is one of the UK’s major industries. According to the Government report Agriculture in the UK 2021, the utilised agricultural area (UAA) across the country totalled 17.2 million hectares or over 71% of all land. The UK’s total income from farming is nearly £6 billion, while agriculture contributes £11.2 billion to the economy – or 0.5% of GDP.
Agriculture is also a very diverse sector, encompassing everything from arable and pastoral farming to market gardening, horticulture and, increasingly, viticulture.
Climate, soil type, and terrain in different parts of the country lend themselves to different types of farming. For example, hills and upland moors in Wales, Scotland and northern England are often ideal for sheep farming. The rich soil of Fenland farms produces 37% of England’s vegetables. Grassy areas of South-West England are ideal for dairy farming, while East Anglia is a major producer of wheat and barley.
Given the sheer variety of farming in the UK, it’s little wonder that agriculture has a total labour force of circa 467,000 people. In this article, we look at the main types of farming in the UK and the insurance cover to consider when operating farms of these types.
Arable farming is focused on growing crops. These include everything from wheat, oats and barley to vegetables, fruit, oilseed rape, and sugar beet. Arable farming is mostly concentrated in eastern and south-eastern parts of England, where the climate is drier, the soil rich, and low or flat land is abundant. However, there are pockets of crop production in other areas; for example, Scotland is a significant producer of barley, wheat, oats, and potatoes, while fruit farming is a major industry in South-West England.
In 2021, crops accounted for 40% of the UK’s agricultural production. Of these, DEFRA found that the most valuable were cereals, which were worth £4 billion. These were followed by vegetables and flowers at £3.2 billion (see ‘Horticultural Farming’ below), with industrial crops, potatoes, and others accounting for smaller shares.
Successful arable farming can be highly dependent on the weather. Unusually wet weather can result in poor yields and force farmers to leave land fallow that would otherwise be planted. Extremely dry weather can also have a major impact on yield.
Pastoral farming is focused on the rearing and production of animals. These include beef and dairy cattle, sheep, pigs, goats, and poultry. According to DEFRA, 60% of the UK’s agricultural production comes from livestock, valued at £16.3 billion. Of this, the most valuable categories are dairy cattle (£4.8 billion) followed by beef cattle (£3.3 billion). These are followed by poultry (£2.9 billion), sheep (£1.5 billion) and pigs (£1.4 billion). Egg production also contributes a further £0.8 billion.
Different areas of the country are suited to different types of pastoral farming. For example, dairy farms are numerous in the west of England, and pig farming is concentrated in East Anglia and Yorkshire. Some 50% of ewes are reared in upland areas such as the Scottish Highlands, hilly areas of Wales, the Lake District, and the Pennines.
Pastoral farming has its own set of risks. Diseases such as bovine tuberculosis or avian influenza may lead to culling. Working with larger animals means workers have to be mindful of potential injury. Dairy farmers also need to be careful of milk contamination and can be left seriously out of pocket by uncollected milk.
Mixed farming generally refers to arable and pastoral farming on the same farm. This practice can have significant benefits, particularly in terms of optimising land use and diversifying production. For example, livestock can be fed on crop residues and put out to pasture, with manure helping to maintain soil fertility and reduce reliance on chemical fertilisers.
While diversification of farming spreads the risk to farmers, they are still exposed to the potential risks which fall under both farming practices.
While arable, pastoral, and mixed are the most common types of farming in the UK, there are other types. These include:
- Horticulture farming. This is cultivating fruits, vegetables, and ornamental plants in fields or protective environments such as polytunnels and greenhouses. It can be large scale, such as in the case of some fenland tulip producers and hydroponic vertical farms, or it can be small scale (similar to market gardening, below). Protected cultivation has significant benefits, such as extending the growing season and reducing the risk from adverse weather.
- Viticulture farming. Viticulture is the production of grapes for wine production, mostly focused in the South and South-East of England. English wines have a growing reputation, particularly those using grapes that thrive in a cooler climate. The quality of each year’s vintage depends heavily on weather conditions, while effective pest management is also essential.
- Market gardening. Market gardening is the smaller-scale production of crops, often grown organically. These can include everything from fruit and vegetables to flowers and herbs. Market gardeners benefit from shorter supply chains, often opting to sell their produce at local markets or to local suppliers, such as restaurants or co-operatives.
Different types of farming face different risks. But, all types of farms need to consider general risks such as damage to machinery, cashflow issues due to customers’ late payment of invoices, or the risk of causing environmental damage to surrounding land and waterways.
In general, most farms will benefit from considering some or all of the below types of insurance for their farm. With the right insurance specialist, you can tailor cover for your business practices and risks.
- Farm insurance. A tailored policy can cover you against everything from damage to buildings and machinery to employers’ and public liability.
- Livestock insurance. This can cover you against risks such as animal infertility, all-risks mortality, worry of sheep or cattle and certain diseases.
- Environmental Impairment Liability Insurance. Cover for legal, clean-up and reinstatement costs after a pollution incident.
- Agricultural and horticultural credit insurance scheme. This protects you against customers who become insolvent or refuse to pay and can be tailored to cover all or individual customers.
- Landlords insurance, commercial property insurance, serviced accommodation insurance or insurance for a listed farm building. If you have diversified and are renting out a property, be it to a commercial business, a residential tenant, or as a type of holiday let, this insurance will protect your liabilities to your tenants/guests and your financial investment.
At Alan Boswell Group, we understand just how important the right insurance cover is for farms of all types. Our farming insurance experts are on hand to support and tailor agricultural insurance to suit you.
Find out more about how we can help here, or speak directly to an expert member of the team at 01603 218000.