Defra figures show sharp drop in oilseed rape area

The oilseed rape growing area in England has fallen below the 500,000ha mark for the first time in 15 years, according to Defra’s June census figures.

The Annual Census of Agricultural Holdings in England was based on a Defra’s official farm survey in June 2019.

Most crop types saw a year of stability as far as numbers were concerned (see table) but the area sown with oilseed rape fell sharply.

See also: Rapeseed prices set to rise further in the new year

The figures showed that the total area of oilseed rape had fallen by 9.7% from 545,000ha in 2018 to 492,000ha in 2019.

The decline was due to a 9.2% fall in the winter-sown crop, which accounts for 96% (488,000ha) of the total oilseed rape area.

The spring rape crop area also fell significantly, to record the lowest figure for more than a decade. The spring rape crop only accounts for 1% of the total oilseed area.

Nevertheless, the reduction in area was dramatic, falling to just 4,000ha, a drop of 43.3% over the 12 months.

Defra June Census 2019 Snapshot (thousands of hectares)
  June 2018 June 2019 % change 2018-19
Wheat 1,619 1,677 3.6
Barley 807  832  3.1
Oats 132 143  8.0
OSR  545  492 -9.7
Potatoes  106  109  3.4
Cattle and calves  5,372  5,280  -1.7
Beef breeding  712  699  -1.8
Dairy breeding  1,143  1,131 -1.1
Pigs  4,038  4060  0.5
Sheep and lambs  15,651  15,391 -1.7
Sheep breeding flock  7,383 7,234  -2.0


For livestock, most figures were relatively stable. However, AHDB Beef and Lamb highlighted a significant drop in the sheep flock and, in particular, ewes intended for first time breeding.

On the 1 June 2019, there were 7.8 million lambs on farm in England – a decline of 1.5%.

The number of ewes previously bred from declined almost 2% from 5.7 million to 5.6 million, but the number intended to enter the flock for the first time decreased by 40,000 ewes or 3.2% to 1.15 million head, the AHDB pointed out.

It suggested that the drop signalled sheep producers’ long-term thinking.

The AHDB also highlighted a 12.8% fall in the number of female dairy youngstock, from 192,000 to 167,000 head. It said the figure confirmed the shortage of dairy youngstock which has been showing in BCMS data and pushing up prices at auction.

What is the June census?

The census, conducted in June each year, covered 22,000 commercial holdings in England and showed the used agricultural area at 9m ha.

Of this, 5m ha is in arable production (54%) and 3.8m ha (41%) is permanent pasture.