Agriculture accounts for fewer than one in 100 workers in England and Wales, a new census has revealed.
The report by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed that at every census since 1841, the number of people working in agriculture has declined.
In 2011, 0.9% of people in England and Wales were employed in agriculture and fishing, the 2011 census analysis of 170 Years of Industrial Change showed.
In 1841, 22% of people worked in these industries but by 2011 this figure had fallen to less than 1% (0.2 million people).
The results of the census, published on the ONS’ website on Wednesday (5 June), highlight the challenges agriculture faces to invest in a new generation of farmers to keep the industry thriving.
Over the next 10 years, UK agriculture must recruit 60,000 new entrants to replace retiring workers, according to skills council Lantra, which says 41% of the agricultural workforce is aged over 50.
“In 1900 one agricultural worker fed around 25 people in Great Britain, by 2010 one agricultural worker fed 200 people,” said the survey.
“Increased globalisation and dependence on imports to supply the increasing population with the food it needs has run alongside the decline in the agriculture and fishing industry in England and Wales.”
Powys in Wales, a rugged mountainous rural county with large acres of farmland dedicated to hill farmers, had the highest concentration of people within agriculture and fishing, at 9%.
Technology and the use of more machinery on farms throughout the 20th century – the increased use of tractors, mechanical threshers and combine harvesters – has enabled the industry to become more productive.
“The development, and increased use of fertilisers, herbicides and pesticides in agriculture meant that fewer crops failed,” said the report.
“While, better storage technologies meant that more produce could be stored in larger quantities for longer without spoiling. The use of machines within agriculture decreased the need for as many workers as previously were required.”