Types of farming

Agriculture in the UK can be divided into three main types:

  • arable farming grows crops, eg wheat and barley
  • pastoral farming is raising animals, eg cows and sheep
  • mixed farming is both arable and pastoral

Agriculture can be intensive or extensive:

  • intensive agriculture uses small areas of land with lots of expensive inputs, eg market gardening
  • extensive agriculture uses large areas of land with fewer inputs needed, eg hill sheep farming

Farmers must choose the type of agriculture that is best for the place they farm and the human resources they have.

Physical and human factors affecting farming

ClimateDistance to the market
Relief (shape of the land)Labour supply (workers)
SoilMachinery and technology
Aspect (direction land is facing)Grants and subsidies
Drainage/rock typeMarket price

Farmers have to select the type of farming which best suits the local physical environment. They must also consider which types of produce will make the most money because there is no point producing things they cannot sell. Although farms can be grouped into three broad categories, the things they grow or produce may change over time. It is important for arable farmers to rotate their crops in order to maintain soil fertility.

Arable farms

A combine harvester harvesting crops on an arable farm

Arable crops need:

  • flat or gently sloping land
  • deep, fertile soils
  • not too dry and not too wet
  • warm climate
  • land suitable for machinery
  • fairly sheltered land

There are many arable farms in the south and east of the UK.

Pastoral farms

Cows on a pastoral farms

Why are some areas more suited to pastoral farming rather than arable farming?

  • Steep slopes - too dangerous for machinery but suitable for sheep.
  • Poor soils - only providing enough nutrition for rough grasses and heather.
  • Cold and wet climate - makes growing crops difficult.
  • Stronger winds - would flatten some crops.

Highland areas in the north and west of the UK often rely on pastoral farming methods. Sheep farming is particularly suited to hilly areas because sheep can graze on steep slopes and eat rough grass grown on poor soils. Dairy herds need flatter land and a supply of good grass. They tend to be in areas with good links to markets.

Some farms are both arable and pastoral. This reduces the risk because if prices fall for one crop or there are unfavourable weather conditions, there may be another product that can provide food and make money. Animals can also provide manure for the fields and help to maintain soil fertility.

Other ways of grouping farms

  • Commercial agriculture - this is farming for a profit. It usually involves farming on a large scale, using few workers but lots of machinery and technology. The produce is sold at market. Commercial farms usually produce one crop, so they are a monoculture. The crops are often called cash crops, eg coffee or flowers.
  • Subsistence agriculture - producing crops and rearing animals just for use by the farmer. Little is left over to sell. It is often small scale and generally involves a mixture of crops and animals. Many subsistence farmers aim to be self-sufficient. The farm has little technology or machinery but may be labour intensive, involving lots of manpower.