Agriculture in Scotland
Agriculture in Scotland employs around 5% of the workforce of the rural regions and contributes to around 1.3% of the GVA. Other studies suggest the employment rate to be around 8% of the total rural population, and in terms of numbers the estimates indicate that around 68,000 people are directly employed or self-employed in agriculture while around 200,000 people are related to a variety of activities related to agriculture.
Scotland has only between a fifth and a sixth of the amount of the arable or good pastoral land of England and Wales and most of this is located in the south and east. It has very heavy rainfall, encouraged the spread of blanket peat bog, the acidity of which, combined with high level of wind and salt spray, made most of the western islands treeless. The existence of hills, mountains, quicksands and marshes made internal communication and conquest extremely difficult. Mesolithic hunter-gatherer encampments formed the first known settlements in Scotland around 8500 BCE. These were highly mobile boat-using people making tools from bone, stone and antlers. In the Neolithic period, around 6,000 years ago, there is evidence of permanent settlements and farming. Archaeological evidence indicates that the two main sources of food were grain and cow's milk. From the beginning of the Bronze Age, about 2000 BCE, arable land spread at the expense of forest. From the Iron Age, beginning in the seventh century BCE, hill forts in southern Scotland are associated with cultivation ridges and terraces. Souterrains, small underground constructions, may have been for storing perishable agricultural products. Ariel photography reveals extensive prehistoric field systems that underlie existing boundaries in some Lowland areas, suggesting that the fertile plains were already densely exploited for agriculture. During the period of Roman occupation there was re-growth of birch, oak and hazel for five centuries, suggesting a decline of population and agriculture.
The early Middle Ages were a period of climate deterioration resulting in more land becoming unproductive. Most farms had to produce a self-sufficient diet of meat, dairy products and cereals, supplemented by hunter-gathering. Farming was based around a single homestead or a small cluster of three or four homes, each probably containing a nuclear family. The climate meant that more oats and barley were grown than corn and cattle were the most important domesticated animal. In the period c. 1150 to 1300, warm dry summers and less severe winters allowed cultivation at much greater heights above sea level and made land more productive. Arable farming grew significantly, but was still more common in low-lying areas than in high-lying areas such as the Highlands, Galloway and the Southern Uplands. The system of infield and outfield agriculture, a variation of open field farming widely used across Europe, may have been introduced with feudalism from the twelfth century and would continue until the eighteenth century. Crops were bere (a form of barley), oats and sometimes wheat, rye and legumes. The more extensive outfield was used for oats. By the late Medieval period, most farming was based on the Lowland fermtoun or Highland baile, settlements of a handful of families that jointly farmed an area notionally suitable for two or three plough teams, allocated in run rigs to tenant farmers, known as husbandmen. Runrigs usually ran downhill so that they included both wet and dry land. Most ploughing was done with a heavy wooden plough with an iron coulter, pulled by oxen, which were more effective and cheaper to feed than horses. Key crops included kale, hemp and flax. Sheep and goats were probably the main sources of milk, while cattle were raised for meat. The rural economy appears to have boomed in the thirteenth century and in the immediate aftermath of the Black Death was still buoyant, but by the 1360s there was a severe falling off in incomes to be followed by a slow recovery in the fifteenth century.
Early modern era
As feudal distinctions declined in the early modern era, the barons and tenants-in-chief merged to form a new identifiable group, the lairds. With the substantial landholders of the yeomen, these heritors were the major landholding orders. Those with property rights included husbandmen, lesser landholders and free tenants. Many young people, both male and female, left home to become domestic and agricultural servants. The early modern era also saw the impact of the Little Ice Age, of colder and wetter weather, which peaked towards the end of the seventeenth century. Almost half the years in the second half of the sixteenth century seeing local or national scarcity, necessitating the shipping of large quantities of grain from the Baltic. In the early seventeenth century famine was relatively common, with four periods of famine prices between 1620 and 1625. The English invasions of the 1640s had a profound impact on the Scottish economy. Under the Commonwealth, the country was relatively highly taxed, but gained access to English markets. After the Restoration the formal frontier with England was re-established, along with its customs duties. Economic conditions were generally favourable from 1660 to 1688, as land owners promoted better tillage and cattle-raising. The closing decade of the seventeenth century there was a slump in trade with the Baltic and France and changes in the Scottish cattle trade, followed by four years of failed harvests (1695, 1696 and 1698-9), known as the "seven ill years". The shortages of the 1690s would be the last of their kind.
Increasing contacts with England after the Union of 1707 led to a conscious attempt to improve agriculture among the gentry and nobility. Haymaking was introduced along with the English plough and foreign grasses, the sowing of rye grass and clover. Turnips and cabbages were introduced, lands enclosed and marshes drained, lime was put down to combat soil acidity, roads built and woods planted. Drilling and sowing and crop rotation were introduced. The introduction of the potato to Scotland in 1739 greatly improved the diet of the peasantry. Enclosures began to displace the run rig system and free pasture. The result of these changes were the Lowland Clearances, by which hundreds of thousands of cottars and tenant farmers from central and southern Scotland were forcibly moved from the farms and small holdings their families had occupied for hundreds of years. The Highland Clearances saw the forced displacement much of the population of the Highland as lands were enclosed, principally so that they could be used for sheep farming. The clearances followed patterns of agricultural change throughout the UK, but were particularly notorious as a result of the late timing, the lack of legal protection for year-by-year tenants under Scots law, the abruptness of the change from the traditional clan system, and the brutality of many evictions. Of those that remained many were now crofters, living on very small rented farms with indefinite tenure used to raise various crops and animals. For these families kelping, fishing, spinning of linen and military service became important sources of additional revenue. In the 1840 and 1850s Scotland suffered its last major subsistence crisis, when the potato blight that caused the Irish potato famine reached the Highlands in 1846.
In the twentieth century Scottish agriculture became susceptible to the ups and downs of world markets. There were dramatic price rises in the First World War, but a slump in the 1920s and 1930s, followed by more rises in World War II. In 1947 annual price reviews were introduced in an attempt to stabilise the market. After World War II there was a drive in UK agriculture to greater production until the late 1970s, resulting in intensive farming. More areas of marginal land were brought into production. There was increasing mechanisation of Scottish agriculture and farming became less labour intensive. The UK membership of the European Economic Community (later the European Union) in 1972 began a change in orientation for Scottish farming. Some sectors, particularly hill sheep farming, became viable only with subsidies. A series of reforms to the CAP from the 1990s attempted to control over-production, limit incentives for intensive farming and mitigate environmental damage. A dual farm structure has emerged with agriculture divided between large commercial farms and small pluralised and diversified holdings.
Total income from farming was estimated at £746 million in 2011, being made up of £2.80 billion in outputs and £602 million in support payments, offset by £2.66 billion in costs. The initial estimate of TIFF for 2012 was £635 million. The total area of agricultural holdings in Scotland was 5.6 million hectares, equal to 73 percent of the total land area. Just over half of this was rough grazing, with about a quarter taken up by grass, and about ten percent used for crops or left fallow. The rest consisted of woodland, ponds, yards or other uses. Excluding grass, cereals accounted for 80 per cent of the land area, with nearly three-quarters of that being barley (330,000 hectares). Wheat took up 101,000 hectares, oilseed rape 37,000 hectares and potatoes 30,000 hectares. The major areas of cereal production were Grampian, Tayside, Borders, Lothian and Fife.
A total of 885 hectares of strawberries were grown, and was the largest source of income in horticulture. Livestock numbers were 6.74 million sheep, 1.79 million cattle and 363,000 pigs, all down on previous years.
About 13,340 km² of land in Scotland is forested - this represents around 15 per cent of the total land area of Scotland. The majority of forests are in public ownership, with forestry policy being controlled by the Forestry Commission. The biggest plantations and timber resources are to be found in Dumfries and Galloway, Tayside, Argyll and the Scottish Highlands. The economic activities generated by forestry in Scotland include planting and harvesting as well as sawmilling, the production of pulp and paper and the manufacture of higher value goods. Forests, especially those surrounding populated areas in Central Scotland also provide a recreation resource.
Aquaculture production is focused on the West and North of the country. The total output of aquaculture was estimated in 2011 at around £434 million per year, including around £412 million for farmed Atlantic salmon, £14.34 million for rainbow trout and £7.7 million for shellfish. Brown trout, sea trout, halibut and Arctic charr are also farmed in Scotland.
It employs around five per cent of the workforce of the rural regions and contributes to around 1.3 per cent of the GVA. Other studies suggest the employment rate to be around 8% of the total rural population, and in terms of numbers the estimates indicate that around 68,000 people are directly employed or self-employed in agriculture while around 200,000 people are related to a variety of activities related to agriculture. In the Highlands and Islands, around 10 per cent of the workforce are engaged in agriculture and livestock and livestock products contribute around 70 per cent of the output.
Only about one quarter of the land is under cultivation. The main crops are cereals. Barley, wheat and potatoes are grown in eastern parts of Scotland such as Aberdeenshire, Moray, Highland, Fife and the Scottish Borders. The Tayside and Angus area is a centre of production of soft fruits such as strawberries, raspberries and loganberries, owing to the mild climate. Sheep raising is important in the less arable mountainous regions, such as the north-west, which are used for rough grazing, due to its geographical isolation, poor climate and acidic soils. Parts of the east of Scotland (areas such as Aberdeenshire, Fife and Angus) are major centres of cereal production and general cropping. In such areas, the land is generally flatter, coastal, and the climate less harsh, and more suited to cultivation. The south-west of Scotland - principally Ayrshire and Dumfries and Galloway - is a centre of dairying. Agriculture, especially cropping, is highly mechanised and generally efficient. Hill farming is also prominent in the Southern Uplands in the south of Scotland, resulting in the production of wool, Lamb and mutton. Cattle-Rearing particularly in the east and south of Scotland results in the production of large amounts of beef. Farming in Scotland has been particularly hard hit in recent years and is still recovering from the effects of the BSE and the European ban on the importation of British beef from 1996. Dairy and Cattle farmers in south-west Scotland were affected by the 2001 UK Foot and Mouth outbreak, which resulted in the destruction of much of their livestock as part of the biosecurity effort to control the spread of the disease.
Because of the persistence of feudalism and the land enclosures of the nineteenth century the ownership of most land is concentrated in relatively few hands (some 350 people own about half the land). In 2003, as a result, the Scottish Parliament passed a Land Reform Act that empowered tenant farmers and communities to purchase land even if the landlord did not want to sell.
The West of Scotland Agricultural College formed in 1899, the East of Scotland Agricultural College in 1901, and the North of Scotland Agricultural College in 1904; these colleges amalgamated to form the Scottish Agricultural College in 1990.
- Agriculture in the United Kingdom
- Factor (Scotland)
- Macaulay Institute
- Napier Commission
- National Farmers Union of Scotland
- National Museum of Rural Life
- Rights of way in Scotland
- Royal Highland Show
- Scottish Agricultural Science Agency
- Scottish Crofting Federation
- Scottish Executive Environment and Rural Affairs Department
- Scottish Land Court
- Scottish Natural Heritage
- Agriculture in Scotland
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Media related to Agriculture in Scotland at Wikimedia Commons