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Agricultural crops

Traditionally, the agricultural industry comprised of small, mixed farming units consisting of both livestock and crop production. The industry has since moved to large arable units specialising in large scale crop production using large tractors and machinery. The agricultural crops industry includes:

  • Combinable grains such as wheat, barley
  • Oil seeds such as rape
  • Sugar and potatoes
  • Agricultural contracting
  • Agronomy – field-crop production and soil management
  • Crop consultation – advice on the utilisation of land

Over the last decade major concerns regarding the environment, the global economy and subsidised over-production have led to changes in the structure of agricultural businesses and their production activity.

There are concerns about the ageing workforce as a large number of people employed in this area are approaching, or have reached, retirement age, and there are not enough new entrants to the industry or experienced employees to replace them.

Key statistics:

  • There are 143,000 people working in the industry, in approximately 30,000 businesses.
  • 97% of businesses employ less than 10 staff.
  • 81% of the workforce is male.
  • 41% of the workforce is 50 years or more.
  • The average age of key decision makers on farms is 55 years, of which 50% do not have a successor in place.
  • 83% of the workforce is employed full-time.
  • 56% of the workforce is self-employed.
  • 59% of the workforce has a level 2 or above qualification.

Jobs in the industry include: arable specialist, farm worker, harvest worker, arable specialist manager, head combine driver, farm (assistant) manager/grieve, pack house worker, combine driver/vegetable harvester, sprayer operator, farm secretary, tractor driver, farm/company director, working farm manager/ farmer (operational farmer)/crofter

Entry requirements for this industry vary depending on the job role. Many jobs require no formal qualifications. However, relevant qualifications and experience can be an advantage, especially for higher paid job roles. Technical/specialist roles may require specific qualifications and/or experience, but some employers may invest in training a suitable individual. Volunteering or taking seasonal/temporary work can improve employment opportunities. There are good opportunities for those wishing to change career.

Modern farming is a skilled operation that requires technical proficiency, business acumen and environmental awareness. The current skill needs in the industry are:

  • Environmental Management
  • Literacy, Numeracy and Communication
  • Technical
  • Computing
  • Business skills – linked to the high proportion of self-employed workers

Drivers of change in employment are:

  • Labour supply – There are difficulties in recruiting and a high proportion of the workforce are expected to retire over the next 10 years. Migrant workers have provided a short-term solution.
  • Government Policy – The sector as a whole has experienced high levels of government subsidy, but it is moving towards a more market based approach.
  • Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) – Implementation of the CAP reforms requires greater environmental well-being and management skills to ensure compliance with regulations.
  • Food security – There is a focus on the UK importing less food in response to rising food prices and concerns about the security of food supply.
  • Legislation – There are increases in legislation relating to health and safety and reducing the environmental impact of the industry.
  • Economic conditions – Demand for food is non-cyclical and the industry has been able to weather the recession easier than other parts of the economy. Some premium ranges are proving successful when marketed correctly (e.g. at consumers staying in instead of going out).
  • Diversification – Farm diversification into non-farming activities, such as accommodation, retail and recreation, and into novel and niche products to develop higher returns is a growing trend.
  • Climate change – This are increasing requirements to improve sustainability skills to manage climate change, increase accountability, to protect surrounding landscapes, scarce water supplies and also to support biodiversity.
  • Energy and fuel security – There is a need for businesses to minimise energy consumption, maximise energy efficiency and protect natural resources.

National and regional:

  • East of England – There are an estimated 29,290 employees in the regional workforce, in around 7,486 businesses.
  • East Midlands – There are an estimated 20,706 employees in the regional workforce, in around 5,131 businesses.
  • London and the South East – There are an estimated 19,734 employees in the regional workforce, in around 3,303 businesses in the South East and 107 in London.
  • Scotland – There are an estimated 17,199 employees in the regional workforce, in around 1,593 businesses.
  • Yorkshire and the Humber – There are an estimated 14,652 employees in the regional workforce, in around 4,127 businesses.
  • West Midlands – There are an estimated 14,028 employees in the regional workforce, in around 2,591 businesses.
  • South West – There are an estimated 13,779 employees in the regional workforce, in around 2,998 businesses.
  • North West – There are an estimated 4,325 employees in the regional workforce, in around 962 businesses.
  • North East – There are an estimated 3,641 employees in the regional workforce, in around 1,022 businesses.
  • Northern Ireland – There are an estimated 1,973 employees in the regional workforce, in around 308 businesses.
  • Wales – There are an estimated 1,649 employees in the regional workforce, in around 186 businesses.

Pay scales in this industry are variable, so the following only provides an indication of the average annual salary paid to some full-time positions:

  • Managers and Proprietors in Agriculture and Services £33,650
  • Farm Managers £26,525
  • Skilled Agricultural Trades £16,816
  • Farmers £18,427
  • Agricultural Machinery Drivers £22,123
  • Farm Workers £16,637

Further information on salaries can be found on the Defra website.

Source: Lantra AACS LMI report 2010