Unexpected farm data from Dartmoor and Exmoor

If you had asked me what agricultural trends were prevailing in our uplands over the past five years, I would have said something along these lines.

The number of agricultural holdings was going down due to consolidations which would see the average farm size increase. The amount of land farmed would be about the same, but the number of cattle and sheep would have decreased. The number of people employed in agriculture would have declined and the area of woodland on farmland would have remained the same.Defra have recently published their ‘Structure of the agricultural industry in June 2021’. There is a specific report on farming in National Parks see here.

I have collated the data within that spreadsheet for Dartmoor and Exmoor and compared 2016 with 2021. 

Dartmoor National Park20162021 + / –
Total holdings7878427.0%
Number of holdings <5-50ha48957617.8%
Number of holdings 50ha +298266-10.7%
Average farm size8066-17.5%
Total area farmed6333255890-11.8%
Beef cattle40121417854.1%
Sheep1896171953753.0%
Labour1655189214.3%
Woodland2022243720.5%
    
Exmoor National Park20162021 + / –
Total holdings559534-4.5%
Number of holdings <5-50ha3053060.3%
Number of holdings 50ha +254228-10.2%
Average farm size991012.0%
Total area farmed5508354014-1.9%
Beef cattle2413122372-7.3%
Sheep259711213725-17.7%
Labour12511183-5.4%
Woodland3454419021.3%

The Dartmoor data states that the number of holdings has gone up whilst the number of larger holdings has gone down as has the average farm size along with the total area of Dartmoor farmed. At the same time the number of beef cattle and sheep have gone up. The number of people employed in agriculture has also gone up and there has been a significant increase in woodlands on farms.

By contrast on Exmoor the total number of holdings has gone down as has the number of larger holdings. The average farm size has gone up by a small amount and the total area of farmland on Exmoor has declined by a small amount.  Beef cattle and sheep number have declined as has the number of people employed on farms. Again, there has been a significant increase in farm woodlands.

The Dartmoor data has really surprised me. It would appear to imply that a number of the larger farms have been split up into smaller units as the average farm size has reduced and the number of smaller units has increased which has led to a rise in the workforce along with the number of cattle and sheep. I can’t explain how compared to five years ago 7442 ha (11.8%) of land is no longer being farmed and likewise I can’t understand where the additional 415 ha (20.5% increase) of woodland actually is!

I don’t know Exmoor very well but the trends there seem quite close to my initial predictions, except for the 21.3% increase in woodlands on farms.

Any thoughts?

2 thoughts on “Unexpected farm data from Dartmoor and Exmoor

  1. Are you sure DEFRA haven’t changed the questions or the way the terms are defined? Sometimes when the data seem to show counterintuitive results, there is an issue like that hidden. Having said that, you’d expect similar impact on the Exmoor data. Could it be that the owner of a small farm reports their land as an under fifty ha unit even though it is let as part of a much bigger unit.

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