UK Agriculture the last 100 years: historical statistics

27Jan2016

This note sets out important indicators of UK agriculture that have been published annually over this time. Together they give an indication of some of the ways that agriculture has changed in response to events over the last 100 years or more including the two world wars, the depression of the 1930s, the post-war boom and entry into the European Community. These long runs of data also give some historical context to more recent changes in agriculture including the dramatic fall in prices and farm incomes in the late 1990s, BSE and the outbreak of foot and mouth disease.

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The first proper agricultural census of Great Britain was taken in 1865 and has been carried out annually in June ever since. It still collects much of the same information on crops areas and livestock numbers. Official statistics on annual crop yields were first published in 1884, livestock products at the start of the 20th century and annual data on agricultural workers from 1921.

This note sets out a small number of important indicators of UK agriculture that have been published annually over this time. Together they give an indication of some of the ways that agriculture has changed in response to events over the last 100 years or more including the two world wars, the depression of the 1930s, the post-war boom and entry into the European Community. These long runs of data also give some historical context to more recent changes in agriculture including the dramatic fall in prices and farm incomes in the late 1990s, BSE and the outbreak of foot and mouth disease.

A number of series, notably farm sizes and the use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides, are not sufficiently consistent or longstanding to include in this note. Most that are included have one or more breaks in their data. This is either because of changes to data collection which were intended to reflect changes in agriculture; improvements in methods of collection; or geographical change (the partition of Ireland for example). However, in most cases the impact is small and they do not limit the use of the data.

From Commons Briefing papers SN03339 Authors: Paul Bolton; Carl Baker