An NFU report has highlighted the importance of farming to the UK’s economy, as it revealed an £8.6bn rise in contributions between 2008 and 2012.

In his final publication as NFU president, Peter Kendall said: “Our farmers are a testament to our resilience, and it is important that at the heart of our agricultural sector are viable and successful farming businesses.”

See also more reports from the NFU conference

The Backing the Business of British Farming report confirms Britain’s farms have yielded impressive growth, increasing contributions to the economy by 54% between 2007 and 2012. So despite challenging weather and disease, plus a fair share of scandal, the agricultural sector continued to thrive, even in the face of recession.

With 142,000 VAT-registered farm businesses, that’s more than the motor trade, education, finance or insurance sectors, Mr Kendall stressed: “The collective importance of food and farming to the UK economy must not be underestimated.”

He called for politicians’ continued support, in light of recent claims from Environment Agency chairman Lord Smith, that tricky decisions were afoot to protect either homes or farmland after recent floods.

According to the study, the UK is among the most significant food producers in the EU, revealing the following statistics:

  • Largest producer of sheepmeat at 276,000t in 2012
  • Third largest wheat producer in the EU despite smaller harvests in 2012 and 2013
  • Third largest dairy output of 13bn litres of milk a year
  • Fourth largest producer of beef in Europe

The future focus is to make even more from those foods the UK has a natural advantage in producing – for example, wheat or grass-fed livestock. The NFU believes greater self-sufficiency by these means should capitalise farm output volume.