While there are many similarities between farming in the UK and farming in continental Europe, there are also numerous differences, not only because of physical factors but also because of differing cultures.
Farming in Britain
In 2006, farming contributed £5.6billion to the UK economy and 18.7 million hectares – or 77 per cent of the country’s total area – were dedicated to agriculture. Agriculture provides nearly 60 per cent of UK’s food requirements, though it only provides employment to 1.4 per cent of the workforce.
Main agricultural products of Britain
The UK’s most important agricultural products are cereals, potatoes, oilseed, vegetables, fish, poultry, cattle and sheep. Wheat is extremely important to the British farming industry; during the yearly growing season, nearly half of the country’s arable land is used to grow cereal crops, of which over 65 per cent is wheat. There are also nearly 31 million sheep, ten million cows, 9.6 million poultry and 4.5 million pigs in the UK.
British farming techniques
Over the last few decades, British farming has become highly mechanised and intensive. The driving force behind this was mainly the fact that, to feed a growing population, production from the same amount of land had to be increased. Despite this, the country still has to import just over 40 per cent of its food.
Organic farming in Britain
Organic farming has become increasingly popular in Britain since the establishment of the Organic Aid Scheme in 1994. By the end of 1997, organic farms comprised only 30,000 hectares, but the figure grew sharply after that, and by 2000, it stood at 525,000 hectares.
Farming in Europe
On the surface, farming in continental Europe might look the same as in Britain, but there are vast physical and cultural differences that strongly affect what is produced and how it is produced.
Main agricultural products of Europe
The main crops cultivated by European farms are cereals, sugar beet, oilseed, vegetables, fruit, grapes, olives and rice. Livestock production is very important to farming in Europe.
European farming techniques
On 7th September 2013, the Economist stated that Americans treated food as a commodity while Europeans are more concerned about where their food comes from and whether it is produced in a way they find acceptable. The debate that started after this statement was published still rages today.
The average farm size in Europe is only 12 hectares. No wonder, therefore, that there are more than 12 million farmers on the continent. The concept of ‘corporate farming’ – huge company-owned farms run by managers – is unusual in Europe, where there are still thousands of small family farms where food is produced for sale at the local market and thus travels only a short way to its destination.
This, of course, has implications for the way in which Europeans farm. With corporate farming, food often has to travel long distances to its destination, which necessitates the use of preservatives and processing. In large parts of Europe, however, freshness is the name of the game – you can usually be sure that, for example, the olives you eat as an appetiser were produced within a few miles of were you’re sitting.
Organic farming in Europe
As in Britain, organic farming is increasing popular in Europe; by 2015, there were 186,000 organic farms on the continent, covering a total of 11.1 million hectares.