Agriculture statistics at regional level
- Data from March 2017. Most recent data: Further Eurostat information, Main tables and Database. Planned article update: September 2018.
This article forms part of Eurostat’s annual flagship publication, the Eurostat regional yearbook. It presents regional agricultural statistics within the European Union (EU) and provides a selection of Eurostat’s data within this domain, including information covering the structure of agriculture (in relation to agricultural holdings and agricultural land use), crop production (cereals and oilseeds) and animal production (livestock specialisation and cows’ milk production). Note also that the final article in this online publication provides a special focus on the related topic of rural areas.
- 1 Main statistical findings
- 2 Data sources and availability
- 3 Context
- 4 See also
- 5 Further Eurostat information
- 6 External links
Main statistical findings
- More than three quarters of the labour input on EU farms in 2013 was family labour.
- The largest farms were most common in regions of the Netherlands and Germany; the smallest farms were most common in regions of Bulgaria, Greece, Croatia, Hungary and Romania.
- Regions across Denmark and northern France reported a high intensity of cereals production within agricultural land use, while the same was true for oilseed crop production in parts of northern Italy.
- Permanent crops were most commonly found in regions spread across the southern EU Member States.
- Regions with large livestock populations were most likely to be relatively specialised in swine or sheep.
Farm labour force and farms
A comprehensive farm structure survey (FSS) is carried out by EU Member States every 10 years, based on the agricultural census, the last of which was conducted in 2010. Intermediate sample surveys are carried out twice between these basic surveys, with the latest farm structure survey conducted for the 2013 reference year while the next one is foreseen for the 2016 reference year. In these surveys, EU Member States collect information from individual agricultural holdings (hereafter referred to simply as farms), covering: the use of agricultural land; livestock numbers; rural development (for example, activities other than agriculture); management and farm labour input (including age, sex and relationship to the holder). Thresholds are defined under which a unit is considered to be too small to be counted as a farm — such as 1 hectare of utilised agricultural area (UAA), a minimum of 5 pigs, 50 m² under glass, or 100 m² of vineyards; each Member State defines its own set of thresholds, with most setting a threshold to include farms with a utilised agricultural area over 1 hectare, although some have raised this to higher levels, for example 3 or 5 hectares. The use of different thresholds should be borne in mind when analysing data on the number of farms or the structure of the labour force; for more information on the thresholds used please refer to section titled, Data sources and availability (below).
More than three quarters of the labour input on farms in the EU in 2013 was family labour
There were 22.2 million persons in the EU-28’s farm labour force in 2013. Although engaged in production on farms, these people did not necessarily work on a full-time basis. To take account of part-time and seasonal work, both of which are widespread in agriculture, labour input can be measured in annual work units (AWU): one such unit corresponds to the input, measured in working time, of one person engaged in agricultural activities on a farm on a full-time basis over an entire year. On this basis, there were 9.5 million AWUs in the EU-28’s labour force directly working on farms in 2013: this was composed of holders, other family labour and non-family labour — see Figure 1. This overall figure for the total number of AWUs was lower than the 10.8 million farms that were active in the EU-28 in 2013; as such, there was an average of less than one AWU for each farm.
A high proportion (44.1 % or 4.2 million AWUs) of the labour force was composed of sole holders, while family members accounted for almost one third of the total (32.4 %; 3.1 million AWUs). An analysis of the non-family workforce shows that nearly two thirds worked on a regular basis (throughout the year) and the rest irregularly, accounting for 15.4 % and 8.1 % respectively of the total workforce.
Between 2003 and 2013 the structure of the farm labour force changed somewhat, with the share of the family labour force falling and the share of the non-family labour force rising. This resulted from an overall fall in the labour force (which may in part reflect the introduction of thresholds in the data collection between 2003 and 2013) which was strongest among the family labour force and weakest among the regular non-family labour force.
Of the 9.5 million AWUs of labour input on EU-28 farms in 2013, Poland accounted for just over one fifth (20.2%) of the total, while the next highest share was recorded by Romania (16.3%), where the agricultural labour force was almost twice the size as in Spain and Italy, which both accounted for 8.6% of the EU-28 total.
An analysis of the distribution of the 10.8 million farms in the EU-28 shows that one third (33.5 %) were in Romania and more than one tenth (13.2 %) in Poland; the next highest shares were in Italy (9.3% of the EU-28 total), Spain (8.9 %) and Greece (6.5 %), with none of the other Member States reporting shares in excess of 5.0 % of the EU-28 total.
Farms were relatively small in some of the EU Member States which reported a high share of the EU-28 agricultural labour force or its total number of farms. Farm size can be measured in various ways: the most common are physical measures (such as the agricultural area or employment) or economic measures (such as the standard output). Note there is no fixed definition as to when a small farm is considered as a subsistence household producing food for its own consumption rather than as an economic unit.
More than four fifths of farms in the EU-28 had a standard output of less than EUR 25 thousand
An analysis, based on the economic size of farms, shows that 83.5 % of all farms in the EU-28 in 2013 were very small (defined here as those farms with a standard output of less than EUR 25 thousand), 5.9 % were small (with a standard output of EUR 25–50 thousand), 4.3 % were medium-sized (with a standard output of EUR 50–100 thousand), and 6.3 % were large or very large farms (with a standard output of EUR 100 thousand or more); less than 1.0 % of farms in the EU-28 had a standard output of more than EUR 500 thousand. Note, there is an article that provides more detailed information on small and large farms in the EU.
There was a wide variation between the EU Member States in 2013 as regards the share of their farms that were of different economic sizes; the varying survey thresholds used in different Member States may play a role, as a higher threshold can be expected to exclude a large number of relatively small farms, so inflating the average size. In Romania, very small farms (with a standard output of less than EUR 25 thousand) made up 99.0 % of the total population of all farms, with this share also exceeding 90.0 % in Hungary, Bulgaria, Lithuania, Latvia, Cyprus, Malta and Croatia. By contrast, less than half of all farms were very small in the United Kingdom, Denmark, France, Germany and the Benelux Member States, with the lowest share (21.7 %) in Belgium.
The average size of the 10.8 million farms in the EU-28 in 2013 was EUR 30.5 thousand of standard output. Map 1 presents an analysis of average farm size (in terms of standard output) for NUTS level 2 regions; again the use of different survey thresholds should be considered.
The largest farms were most common in regions of the Netherlands and Germany
There were 35 regions across the EU-28 where the standard output per farm averaged at least EUR 200 thousand (as shown by the darkest shade in the map). These regions were located in the Netherlands (every region except for Zeeland), Germany (eight NUTS level 1 regions), Belgium (four regions), Denmark, France and the United Kingdom (three regions each), the Czech Republic (two regions) and Slovakia (one region). Standard output per farm peaked at EUR 542 thousand in the German region of Sachsen-Anhalt, while two other German regions — Mecklenburg-Vorpommern and Thüringen — were also present among the top four regions in the EU with the largest average sized farms in economic terms (all with an average standard output in excess of EUR 400 thousand); they were joined by the Dutch region of Zuid-Holland.
The smallest farms were most common in regions of Bulgaria, Greece, Croatia, Hungary and Romania
At the other end of the range, there were 69 regions in the EU-28 where farms on average generated less than EUR 25 thousand of standard output in 2013 (as shown by the lightest shade in the map). All of the Bulgarian, Greek, Croatian, Hungarian and Romanian regions figured in this list, along with 11 of the 16 Polish regions, five Spanish regions, four regions each from Italy and Portugal, two from Austria and single regions from France and Ireland, as well as Cyprus, Lithuania, Latvia and Malta (which are all single regions at this level of detail) and Slovenia (only national data available). As such, the vast majority of these regions with a low average size were in eastern or southern EU Member States. Leaving aside the two Spanish autonomous cities of Ceuta and Melilla, the region with the lowest level of standard output per farm (EUR 2 600) was Sud-Vest Oltenia in Romania.
In the Czech Republic, Ireland, Croatia, Austria, Portugal and Slovakia, farms in the capital city region had the highest average standard output (note that these capital city regions may also contain land that encircles the capital city itself); the relatively high values recorded in some of these regions may be linked to farmers providing high value horticultural products to local markets. By contrast, in Bulgaria, Denmark, Hungary and Finland, the capital city region recorded the lowest average levels of standard output per farm. Other regions that recorded low average standard output per farm compared with national averages were typically remote, often upland/highland regions, where it may be difficult to farm or transport goods to market, for example, the mountainous region of Asturias (Spain), the overseas French regions of Guyane and La Réunion, the southernmost regions of mainland Italy, south eastern regions of Poland, the island Região Autónoma da Madeira (Portugal), the north of Sweden, and the Highlands and Islands of Scotland (the United Kingdom).
The average size of farms (in terms of standard output per farm) was more than four times as high in 2013 as it had been in 2007 in Slovakia. In all Slovakian regions the average size at least doubled, with particularly strong growth in the capital city region (where the average size in 2013 was 6.1 times as high as in 2007). Other regions of the EU with large increases during this period include the Bulgarian regions of Severozapaden, Severen tsentralen and Severoiztochen, as well as the Belgian capital city region. In 10 regions of the EU the average farm size fell between 2007 and 2013, most notably in Rheinland-Pfalz in Germany where it halved.
Specialisation in agricultural regions
Land used for agriculture makes up just over two fifths of the EU’s land area with just under another fifth of the land area also belonging to farms, either in the form of wooded areas or other land not used for agriculture. Arable land (which includes land for cereals and other arable land) accounted for three fifths (59.8 %) of the utilised agricultural area in the EU-28 in 2015, with permanent grassland (which is composed of pasture, meadow and rough grazing) accounting for one third (33.2 %). Permanent crops, such as vineyards, olive groves and orchards, accounted for a 6.6 % share, with the remaining 0.4 % partly attributed to kitchen gardens.
There were not only considerable differences in the size of farms and the farm labour force across the regions of the EU-28, but also in the types of usage made of farm land, as illustrated by Figure 2. Decisions to specialise in a particular type of farming (and therefore to make a particular use of farm land) are based upon a wide range of factors, including physical, economic and environmental issues. For example, physical factors may include the climate, relief or soil type, economic factors may include land tenure, the availability of labour, access to markets or capital, and environmental factors may include restrictions on the use of pesticides or price support systems for encouraging sustainable production methods.
In 2015, the largest area of arable land in any of the EU regions was recorded in the central Spanish region of Castilla y León (3.5 million hectares). This was followed by another central Spanish region, Castilla-la Mancha, Lithuania (a single region at this level of detail), the southern German region of Bayern (a NUTS level 1 region) and Centre in France; in all four of these regions the area of arable land was within the range of 2–3 million hectares. The largest areas of grassland were recorded in the north of the United Kingdom in Scotland (4.7 million hectares; note this is a NUTS level 1 region) and in the two Irish regions (each of these had an area of grassland that was close to 2 million hectares). The largest area of permanent crops was located in southern Spain in Andalucía (1.9 million hectares), an area that was far greater in size than the next two largest areas of permanent crops, Castilla-la Mancha (0.9 million hectares) and the southern Italian region of Puglia (0.5 million hectares).
Figure 2 identifies three lists, each showing the 10 NUTS level 2 regions that were most specialised in each of the three main types of agricultural land use. To avoid focusing on regions with small areas or a low level of agricultural activity, a preselection was made to include only the 50 largest regions for each type of agricultural land use and only then was the ranking of the 10 most specialised made.
No southern regions appeared in the 10 most specialised regions for arable land as this list was split fairly evenly between regions from eastern and western EU Member States, although it was topped by Länsi-Suomi (Finland) where practically the whole (99.8 %) utilised agricultural area was given over to arable crops. Six out of the top 10 regions for arable land were either in France or Poland.
Grasslands are commonly found in regions where it is difficult to farm intensively and where livestock production remains the traditional form of agriculture, particularly sheep or cattle farming. The list of the 10 regions most specialised for permanent grassland was dominated by regions in western EU Member States, particularly the United Kingdom (NUTS level 1 regions) and Ireland. Two eastern regions were in the list, Jadranska Hrvatska (Croatia) and Centru (Romania). By far the most specialised region was Border, Midland and Western Ireland, where 95.1 % of the utilised agricultural area was permanent grassland; hilly/mountainous parts of western Ireland are particularly affected by prevailing Atlantic weather systems and often record averages of more than 2 000 mm of rain per year.
Only in seven EU regions did permanent crops account for more than half of the utilised agricultural area, five of which were in Greece while the other two were in Spain and Portugal. The three other regions in the top 10 were also from southern Member States and as such all of the regions most specialised (in terms of agricultural land use) in permanent crops were from the south of the EU.
One of the main uses of arable land is for the production of cereals: these are the largest group of crops in the world and are also one of the most important outputs of the EU’s agricultural sector. Cereals are used primarily for human consumption and animal feed; they are also used to produce drinks and for industrial products (for example, starch).
In 2015, the area of agricultural land that was used for the production of cereals (including rice) in the EU-28 was 57.4 million hectares. The EU-28’s harvested production of cereals was 315.2 million tonnes. The EU harvest in 2015 was lower than in 2014, but higher than in all of the years from 2009 to 2013.
Cereals production in Europe thrives in lowland regions that are characterised by large plains, with a temperate climate and relatively modest levels of rainfall. Common wheat and spelt are together the most widely grown cereal in the EU.
France was the largest producer of cereals in the EU, accounting for 23.0 % of the EU-28 total in 2015, while Germany (15.5 %) was the only other EU Member State to record a double-digit share of the total. At a regional level, harvested production of cereals peaked at over 7 million tonnes in 2015 in four regions: Centre (France), Bayern, Niedersachsen (both Germany; note these are NUTS level 1 regions) and Castilla y León (Spain).
As well as showing the most commonly grown type of cereal in each of the NUTS level 2 regions in 2015, Map 2 also provides information on the harvested production level for cereals. Note that the production statistics presented have been normalised by dividing by the region’s total utilised agricultural area in order to take account of the different size of regions in terms of their agricultural land use (and the availability of data at different levels of NUTS in some EU Member States). It should be noted that the resulting information is not equivalent to a yield, as the latter is based on the level of production of a crop divided by the cultivated area for the same crop.
Regions across Denmark and northern France reported a high intensity of cereals production within agricultural land use
The most specialised areas of cereals production were in the northern half of France, eastern England, Belgium, Denmark, northern Germany, the Czech capital city region, southern Hungary and northern Italy — as shown by the largest circles in Map 2. Cereals production (relative to a region’s utilised agricultural area) peaked in Île de France, the French capital city region, followed by Alsace in eastern France and Sjælland in Denmark.
By contrast, the smallest circles in Map 2 show the 45 regions in the EU (and eight regions in non-member countries) where the harvested production of cereals was small. Among these were 20 EU regions (as well as Iceland and Montenegro) where cereals production was particularly low, including several Greek, Spanish, French and Portuguese island regions, as well as mountainous and coastal regions in Spain, Italy and Austria.
The type of cereal in which regions were specialised was regionally focused to some extent, however common wheat and spelt was the main cereal crop in a large number of regions spread across many parts of the EU, but with relatively few regions in southern EU Member States. Common wheat and spelt was the main cereal crop in most regions of the Benelux Member States, northern and central France (but also Midi-Pyrénées), all of Germany (subject to data availability), eastern Austria (but also Vorarlberg) and much of England and Wales in the United Kingdom. In northern Europe, common wheat and spelt was the main cereal crop in the Baltic Member States, Denmark and the more southerly Swedish regions, while in eastern Member States it was the main cereal crop in all regions of Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Poland and Slovakia.
In contrast to the situation for common wheat and spelt, durum wheat was the most commonly grown type of cereal in southern parts of Italy, France and Spain, as well as in several Greek regions.
Barley was the most common cereal in more remote or mountainous regions, often in northern or southern Member States, for example in Cyprus, some Greek islands, several Spanish regions, central and northern Finland and northern Sweden. Barley was also the most common cereal crop in the two Irish regions, in Northern Ireland and Scotland in the United Kingdom, as well as in one Dutch region and two mountainous Austrian regions. Only in two regions from eastern Member States — one each in Croatia and Slovenia — was barley the most common cereal crop.
Rye and winter cereal was the most common cereal crop in just one region, the mountainous Italian Provincia Autonoma di Bolzano/Bozen.
Like common wheat and spelt, the regions where grain maize and corn-cob mix were the most common cereal crop were spread across many parts of the EU, although in this case there were no regions from northern EU Member States. Nevertheless, the largest concentration of regions specialising in grain maize and corn-cob mix was across southern Member States: northern and central Italy, Portugal, southern France (and Alsace) and several French overseas regions, northern and central Greece, and parts of Spain. Elsewhere, grain maize and corn-cob mix was the most common crop in nearly all Hungarian regions, northern and western Romania, as well as one region each in Croatia and Slovenia, while it was the most common cereal crop in two regions from each of Belgium and the Netherlands.
A broadly similar picture can be seen in Figure 3, which shows the five most specialised regions for each of the same five types of crops as shown in Map 2. The most specialised regions (again in terms of the level of harvested production relative to the total utilised agricultural area) for each of these crops were quite geographically concentrated. The most specialised regions for barley were mainly in Denmark (four regions out of the top five), with two of these also figuring among the most specialised regions for rye and maslin, along with regions from eastern Germany and Poland. Southern Italian regions dominated the list of the regions most specialised in the production of durum wheat, while a majority of the top five regions most specialised in grain maize and corn-cob mix were from northern Italy. The five regions most specialised in the production of common wheat and spelt were situated either side of the English channel/North Sea, with three from northern France, one in central Belgium and one in the East of England (the United Kingdom).
Some oilseeds crops are processed for use in products for human consumption; however, much of the harvested production from oilseeds crops is used for animal feed. Oils extracted from some oilseed products may also be used for industrial purposes, for example to produce biofuels, inks or paints.
In 2014, the area of agricultural land that was used for the production of oilseed crops in the EU-28 was approximately 11.6 million hectares. Note that this concerns four types of oilseed crops: linseed (2015 data for the harvested area), rape and turnip rape seeds, sunflower seed and soya. The EU-28’s harvested production of oilseed crops was 35.5 million tonnes in 2014. Data for the harvested production of linseed are not available for many earlier years, but focusing on an aggregate for the other types of oilseed, it is clear that the EU-28’s harvest in 2014 was the highest recorded since the time series began (2000). Rape and turnip rape seeds were together the most widely grown oilseed crop in the EU.
France was the largest producer of oilseed crops in the EU, accounting for 20.6 % of the EU-28 total in 2014, while Germany (17.8 %, excluding linseed) was the only other EU Member State to record a double-digit share of the total. At a regional level, harvested production of oilseed crops peaked at nearly 1.2 million tonnes in 2015 in Centre (France), while it also exceeded 900 thousand tonnes in Sud - Muntenia and Sud-Est (Romania) and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern (note this is a NUTS level 1 region).
As well as showing the most commonly grown type of oilseed crop in each of the NUTS level 2 regions of the EU in 2015, Map 3 provides information on the harvested production level for oilseed crops; as such it is similar to Map 2 concerning cereals. As for cereals production, the data for the harvested production of oilseed crops have been related to the total utilised agricultural area, which adjusts to some extent for the use of different NUTS levels.
Particularly high intensity of oilseed crop production within agricultural land use in parts of northern Italy
Two northern Italian regions — Friuli-Venezia Giulia and Liguria (2014 data) — stood out as by far the most specialised for the production of oilseed crops followed by four regions in Germany (NUTS level 1 regions), three each in Bulgaria and France, two each in the Czech Republic, Hungary and the United Kingdom and one each in Poland and Romania.
There were a number of regions that had not only a high intensity of oilseed crop production but also of cereals production, as shown by the largest circles in Maps 2 and 3, namely: Praha (the Czech Republic), Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Île de France, Champagne-Ardenne and Centre (all France), Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Dél-Dunántúl (Hungary) and the East of England. That a relatively large number of regions had a high intensity for both of these categories of crops is not surprising, as arable farming in general tends to thrive in regions where the summers are warm and relatively dry and the land is low, flat and fertile.
The production of rape, turnip rape and sunflower seeds was very low in both northern and southern regions of Europe, with the vast majority of production running in a band between these two extremes. There were, however, exceptions in this central zone, as most of the regions in Belgium, the Netherlands and Slovenia reported low levels of production relative to the size of their utilised agricultural area. The production of oilseed crops was also non-existent in mountainous regions, for example, in the Alpine regions of western Austria. Equally, there were exceptions in northern and southern countries, as there were a few with a relatively high intensity of oilseed crop production. These included not only the two northern Italian regions that reported the highest intensities among all EU regions, but also Hovedstaden and Sjælland in Denmark and Sydsverige in Sweden.
Focusing on the 42 regions in Map 3 where oilseed crop production was relatively high, the two Italian regions of Friuli-Venezia Giulia and Liguria were again outliers, not just because of their high level of production relative to their size, but also because their main oilseed crop was soya (shaded in dark yellow). Among the remaining 40 regions (38 in the EU and two in Turkey), the main oilseed crop was rape and turnip rape seed in 25 regions (light yellow) and sunflower seed in the remaining 15 regions (dark green).
In fact, soya was the main oilseed crop in less than 20 of the 207 regions for which the main crop is identified in Map 3, most of these being in Austria, northern Italy (2014 data), Greece, Croatia or Slovenia. In general, sunflower seed was the main oilseed crop in many regions of the southern EU Member States, as well as in Bulgaria and most of Hungary and Romania in the east, and in southern France in the west. By contrast, among all of the regions in the southern EU Member States only three Spanish regions and one Italian region (2014 data) reported that rape and turnip rape seed was the main oilseed crop. None of the EU regions were most specialised in the production of linseed oil.
Figure 4 shows the five most specialised regions for each of the same four types of crops shown in Map 3. As for cereals, the most specialised regions (again in terms of the level of harvested production relative to the total utilised agricultural area) for each of these crops were quite geographically concentrated. Three of the most specialised regions for soya were in northern Italy, while three of the most specialised regions for rape and turnip rape seed were in eastern Germany. The five regions in the EU most specialised in sunflower seed production were all in Bulgaria or Hungary, while four out of the five most specialised linseed producing regions were in the United Kingdom.
Livestock and milk production
Moving from arable farming to livestock farming, in the EU-28 as a whole, there were 336 million head of livestock in 2015; this total covers bovines, swine, sheep and goats (and therefore excludes poultry as well as less common animals). The composition of this livestock population was 148.5 million head of swine, 89.1 million head of bovines, 85.5 million head of sheep and 12.5 million head of goats (the latter two figures being estimates made specifically for the purpose of this online publication).
Overall, Spain, Germany, France and the United Kingdom held the largest populations of livestock in 2015, their totals (an aggregate for swine, bovines, sheep and goats) ranging from 53 million head in Spain to 37 million head in the United Kingdom. The highest numbers of pigs were recorded in Spain and Germany (around 28 million), more than double the next highest number which was in France (13 million). However, the highest number of bovines was in France (19 million), followed by Germany (13 million). The United Kingdom (23 million) had by far the highest number of sheep, ahead of Spain (16 million), while Greece had the highest number of goats (4 million), also ahead of Spain (3 million). In a majority (17) of the EU Member States, the most common type of livestock was swine, with cattle the most common in Ireland, France, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg and Slovenia, and sheep the most common in Bulgaria, Greece, Cyprus, Romania and the United Kingdom.
Regions with large livestock populations were most likely to be relatively specialised in swine or sheep, with the reverse true in regions with smaller livestock populations
Map 4 shows patterns of regional specialisation for livestock; note this is not based simply on a count of the number of head of each type of animal, but is rather determined in relation to the EU average and therefore shows a relative rather than absolute measure of specialisation. When considering these livestock populations it should be remembered that some regions are larger than others and that data for Germany and the United Kingdom are shown for NUTS level 1 regions which are, by definition, generally larger than the NUTS level 2 regions used elsewhere; note also that national data are shown for Serbia and Turkey.
Among the NUTS regions shown in Map 4, several EU Member States had clear livestock rearing specialisations (relative to the EU average) that were common to all (or nearly all) regions in 2015: this was the case for goats in Bulgaria and Greece, swine in Denmark, and (to a somewhat lesser extent) bovines in the Czech Republic and Sweden, as well as sheep in the United Kingdom. In most of the other Member States, a smaller majority of regions were relatively specialised in one particular type of livestock rearing: swine in Poland, bovines in Belgium, Germany, France, the Netherlands and Finland, or goats in Portugal and Romania. A more diverse picture was apparent in Spain, Italy and to a lesser extent Slovakia, with no clear national specialisation at the regional level of analysis.
Counts of livestock vary considerably between regions, reflecting not only the size of each region but also its typology, climate and alternative uses for land (not just agricultural). Among the 85 regions in the EU which were relatively specialised in rearing bovines in 2015, there were 11 where the number of head rose above one million, six of these were located in France (Rhône-Alpes, Limousin, Bourgogne, Basse-Normandie, Auvergne and Pays de la Loire), two were from Germany (Schleswig-Holstein and Bayern; note these are both NUTS level 1 regions), one was from the United Kingdom (Northern Ireland; also a NUTS level 1 region) and the final two were the Irish regions, namely, Border, Midland and Western, and Southern and Eastern (which had the highest count at 4.0 million head).
A similar analysis reveals there were 54 regions in the EU that were relatively specialised in rearing swine, of which 24 regions recorded in excess of a million head, with half of these having more than two million heads. The 12 regions with the highest numbers of swine were located in Denmark (three regions), Spain (two regions), Germany (two regions; note these were both NUTS level 1 regions), as well as single regions from each of Belgium (2013 data), France, Italy, the Netherlands and Poland (2012 data). The highest count of swine was recorded in the German region of Niedersachsen (8.7 million head), while there were 7.3-7.5 million head in Nordrhein-Westfalen (also Germany), Cataluña (Spain; 2014 data) and Bretagne (France).
There were 37 regions across the EU where rearing sheep was the most specialised form of livestock farming (relative to the EU average) in 2015. A total of 15 of these regions had more than one million head of sheep, among which seven were from the north and west of the United Kingdom (note these are all NUTS level 1 regions), while there were three Romanian regions, two Spanish regions (2014 data) and single regions from each of France, Italy and Portugal. The highest numbers of sheep were recorded in Scotland (5.0 million head) and Wales (5.9 million head).
Finally, there were 47 regions in the EU where the rearing of goats was the most specialised form of livestock farming (relative to the EU average) in 2015. In none of these regions did the count of the number of head rise above one million, with the highest count in the southern Spanish region of Andalucía (985 thousand heads; 2014 data). The only other regions to record more than half a million head of goats were both located in Greece: the island of Kriti (558 thousand head) and Kentriki Makedonia (515 thousand head).
Agricultural products: cows’ milk production
The diversity of landscapes and climatic conditions within some EU Member States often helps explain regional specialisations as regards dairy farming pasture, which is generally grown in lowland areas with a temperate climate and a relatively high degree of rainfall. This was particularly the case in the Benelux Member States, Denmark, Germany, Ireland, much of France, central Poland, many Alpine regions and western England. In those regions where grassland is rarer (for example, around the Mediterranean or in south-eastern EU regions) dairy farming tends to be relatively uncommon. Indeed, dairy farming is often substituted by sheep (or goat) farming when livestock farmers are confronted with relatively arid landscapes and less favourable climatic conditions; this is also true to some degree in upland regions.
End of milk quotas
In 1984, following years of significant overproduction of milk and milk products, the common agricultural policy (CAP) introduced milk quotas, replacing guaranteed milk prices. The guaranteed price had had an impact on world market prices as it was considerably higher than market prices and the EU frequently subsidised exports to the markets outside of the EU. The quotas that were introduced had two elements, fixing the maximum amount of milk to be delivered to dairies and also limiting the amount that could be sold directly by farms; if the quantities of milk were above the defined thresholds a levy was applied to the farmers concerned. The quotas not only stopped the over-supply of milk and milk products, but it also stabilised dairy farmers’ revenues.
In 2009, a decision was taken to prepare for the end of milk quotas by increasing the quotas by 1 % every year over five consecutive years. The intention was to give back to farmers the flexibility to expand their production and also to allow EU dairy farmers to profit from growing markets outside of the EU. In April 2015, 31 years after being put into place, dairy quotas were abolished. Note, there is an article that provides more information about the production of milk and milk products during the era of milk quotas.
As noted above, around 27 % of the EU-28’s livestock population in 2015 were bovines, some 89 million in number. Of these, 24 million were dairy cows (used mainly or exclusively for the production of milk for human consumption and/or processing into dairy products). Cows produce about 97 % of all milk produced in the EU-28, the remainder coming from sheep, goats and buffaloes. Dairy cows produced 161 million tonnes of milk in the EU-28 in 2015, with 152 million tonnes being delivered to dairies from which various products could be obtained, such as drinking milk, whey, cheese, milk powder and butter; the remainder was used on farms (as feed, for own consumption or for own further processing) or sold directly from farms to consumers.
Dutch regions had particularly high production of cows’ milk relative to their size
The highest levels of cows’ milk production among the EU Member States were recorded by Germany and France, producing 33 million tonnes and 26 million tonnes of milk respectively in 2015, equivalent to 20.3 % and 16.1 % of the EU-28 total. Given Ireland’s relatively small size, its 4.4 % share of the EU-28 milk production is noteworthy. On a regional level, taking account of each region’s size, production was greatest in the Dutch region of Overijssel, where 633 tonnes of cows’ milk were produced per km². Indeed, 8 of the 10 regions with the highest production relative to size were in the Netherlands, the other two being Cheshire (the United Kingdom) and Região Autónoma dos Açores (Portugal). A total of 51 regions recorded at least 100 tonnes of cows’ milk production per km² in 2015 (shown with the darkest shade of green in Map 5). The vast majority of these were in Denmark or western EU Member States, specifically in Ireland, the United Kingdom, northern France, the Benelux Member States and Germany. Other regions with a high level of milk production relative to their area were Lombardia and Emilia-Romagna in northern Italy, Malta (a single region at this level of detail), Podlaskie in eastern Poland, and the aforementioned Região Autónoma dos Açores.
A total of 75 regions reported a low level of cows’ milk production relative to their size, less than 10 tonnes per km² in 2015. Approximately half of these were in southern EU Member States, including 12 of the 13 Greek regions and four of the seven Portuguese regions. Ten of the 75 regions were capital city regions, such as Wien (Austria), Région de Bruxelles-Capitale/Brussels Hoofdstedelijk Gewest (Belgium), Berlin (Germany) and Attiki (Greece). Several regions in eastern and western EU Member States were more focused on arable rather than dairy farming, for example Severozapaden in Bulgaria, Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire in the United Kingdom, Burgenland in western Austria, or Észak-Magyarország in Hungary. Others were particularly remote regions, for example in the north of Finland, Sweden or Scotland (the United Kingdom).
The second analysis of cows’ milk production is presented in Figure 5. This shows, for each EU Member State, which region had the highest level of cows’ milk production. For these selected regions it contrasts the number of dairy cows with the level of cows’ milk production relative to the size of the region. The EU regions with the highest levels of cows’ milk production in 2015 were Bayern and Niedersachsen, while three more German regions — Nordrhein-Westfalen, Schleswig-Holstein and Baden-Württemberg — featured among the top 20 regions with the highest levels of cows’ milk production in the EU; it should be noted that data for Germany refer to NUTS level 1 regions. The next highest levels of cows’ milk production were recorded in Southern and Eastern Ireland, Bretagne in France, and Lombardia in Italy, while Pays de la Loire and Basse-Normandie (both France) and Emilia-Romagna (Italy) were also present among the top 20 regions with the highest levels of cows’ milk production in 2015. Mazowieckie and Galicia were the largest regions in terms of cows’ milk production in Poland and Spain respectively and were the 10th and 11th largest milk producing regions in the EU; a second Polish region, Podlaskie, was also in the top 20. Northern Ireland and Friesland were the 13th and 14th largest cows’ milk producing regions in the EU and the largest in the United Kingdom and the Netherlands respectively, while three further Dutch regions, Overijssel, Gelderland and Noord-Brabant, were also present in the top 20 for the EU, which was completed by the Danish region of Syddanmark.
Data sources and availability
The farm structure survey is a major source of agricultural statistics. A comprehensive survey is carried out by EU Member States every 10 years (the last of which was conducted in 2010) and is referred to as the agricultural census. This is complemented by intermediate sample surveys which are carried out two times between each census (the last of which was conducted in 2013). The legal basis for the farm structure survey is provided by a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on farm structure surveys and the survey on agricultural production methods (EC) No 1166/2008, together with an implementing Regulation (EC) No 1200/2009 amended by Regulation (EU) 2015/1391. As noted above, thresholds used for the farm structure survey are generally set so as to include farms with a utilised agricultural area over 1 hectare, although thresholds are raised to two hectares for Slovakia, three hectares for Luxembourg, and five hectares for the Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany and the United Kingdom.
The legal basis for crop statistics was revised in 2015 with the adoption of a new Regulation (EU) 2015/1557 and is supplemented by an ESS agreement. Crop statistics relate to: harvested production; harvested or production area or the area under cultivation; and the main area.
The legal basis for livestock statistics is Regulation (EC) No 1165/2008, while milk and milk product statistics are collected under Decision 97/80/EC implementing Directive 96/16/EC on statistical surveys of milk and milk products.
Eurostat traditionally relies on additive variables showing absolute values. For illustrative purposes some indicators in this article have been normalised, dividing regional values by a region’s total utilised agricultural area (in hectares). It should be noted that Map 5 and Figure 5 on cows’ milk production per km² show the spatial distribution across EU regions and that the information presented does not refer, per se, to milk yields (which should instead employ the utilised agricultural area of dairy farming as a denominator).
The data presented in this article are based exclusively on the 2013 version of NUTS. For the vast majority of regions there is no difference between the 2010 and 2013 versions of NUTS. The regional data from the farm structure survey used in Map 1 in this article have been converted from NUTS 2010. The conversion of these data has generally had the following consequences at NUTS level 2: data for the French regions of Guadeloupe and Mayotte are not available, only national data are available for Slovenia, and data for London are shown at NUTS level 1.
Glossary entries on Statistics Explained are available for a wide range of agricultural concepts/indicators, including: the utilised agricultural area (UAA), agricultural holdings, cereals, milk production.
Although the economic significance of agriculture within the EU economy has been in almost perpetual decline over the last 50 years, it remains a vital sector. Agricultural products form a major part of Europe’s regional and cultural identity: this is, at least in part, due to a diverse range of natural environments, climates and farming practices that feed through into a wide array of agricultural products. Many valuable habitats in Europe are maintained by extensive farming, while inappropriate agricultural practices/land use can impact on natural resources, for example, through the fragmentation of natural habitats and the loss of wildlife or soil, water and air pollution.
The sustainable development of rural areas is one of the key objectives of the EU’s common agricultural policy (CAP). Launched in 1962, it sets conditions for farmers to fulfil multiple functions, including their principal aim of producing high-quality, safe food. Significant reforms of the CAP have taken place in recent years, most notably in 2003, 2008 and 2013.
The CAP is financed by two funds: on the one hand, the European Agricultural Guarantee Fund (EAGF) finances direct payments to farmers, as well as measures to respond to market disturbances; on the other, the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD) finances rural development programmes. Changes to the CAP are designed to make it more effective in delivering a competitive and sustainable agriculture sector. The reforms may also be seen within the context of helping the EU attain its targets within the Europe 2020 strategy.
Reform of the CAP — greening the EU's agricultural sector
In December 2013, the latest reform of the CAP was formally adopted, promoting a fairer distribution of direct payments (with targeted support and convergence goals). It was based on four legislative instruments, covering:
- support for rural development, Regulation (EU) No 1305/2013;
- financing, management and monitoring of the CAP, Regulation (EU) No 1306/2013;
- direct payments, Regulation (EU) No 1307/2013;
- measures linked to agricultural products, Regulation (EU) No 1308/2013.
In order to fully implement these policy agreements, the European Commission drafted a set of delegated and implementing acts designed to provide further detailed rules regarding transitional arrangements and the implementation of CAP reforms.
One of the features of the 2013 reform was the reinforcement of the link between the support to farmers and environmentally-friendly farming practices. ‘Greening’ is a term that has been coined in relation to making the farm payments system more environment-friendly, whereby farmers who use the land more sustainably and care for natural resources as part of their everyday work benefit financially.
The ‘green payment’ is an integral part of CAP compulsory schemes that have targeted farmers since 2015. Green direct payments account for 30 % of the payments budget, with farmers having to make use of various practices that benefit the environment and the climate, including: diversifying crops; maintaining permanent grassland; dedicating 5 % of arable land to ecologically beneficial elements/ecological focus areas.
- Agricultural production - animals
- Agricultural production - crops
- Agricultural production - orchards
- Meat production statistics
- Milk and milk product statistics
- Milk and milk products - 30 years of quotas
Further Eurostat information
- Eurostat regional yearbook
- Agriculture, forestry and fishery statistics — 2016 edition
- Agriculture, forestry and fishery statistics — 2015 edition
- Milk and milk products — 30 years of quotas — Statistics in focus 4/2015
- Pig farming in the European Union: considerable variations from one Member State to another — Statistics in focus 15/2014
- A regional picture of farming in Europe — what, where and how much? — Statistics in focus 44/2010
- Regional agriculture statistics (t_reg_agr)
- Livestock by NUTS 2 regions (tgs00045)
- Production of cow's milk on farms by NUTS 2 regions (tgs00046)
- Agriculture (t_agri), see:
- Agricultural production (t_apro)
- Milk and milk products (t_apro_mk)
- Production of cow's milk on farms by NUTS 2 regions (tgs00046)
- Livestock and meat (t_apro_mt)
- Animal populations by NUTS 2 regions (tgs00045)
- Milk and milk products (t_apro_mk)
- Regional agriculture statistics (reg_agr)
- Agri-environmental indicators (reg_aei)
- Structure of agricultural holdings (reg_ef)
- Agricultural production (reg_apro)
- Economic accounts for agriculture by NUTS 2 regions (agr_r_accts)
- Agriculture (agr), see:
- Farm structure (ef)
- Main farm indicators (ef_mainfarm)
- Farm indicators by agricultural area, type of farm, standard output, legal form and NUTS 2 regions (ef_m_farmleg)
- Farm indicators by agricultural area, type of farm, standard output, sex and age of the manager and NUTS 2 regions (ef_m_farmang)
- Main farm indicators (ef_mainfarm)
- Economic accounts for agriculture (aact)
- Economic accounts for agriculture by NUTS 2 regions (agr_r_accts)
- Economic accounts for agriculture by NUTS 2 regions (until 2012) (agr_r_accts_h)
- Agricultural production (apro)
- Crops products (apro_cp)
- Crop statistics (area, production and yield) (apro_acs)
- Crop statistics by NUTS 2 regions (from 2000 onwards) (agr_r_acs)
- Crop statistics by NUTS 2 regions (1974 - 1999) (agr_r_acs_h)
- Crop statistics (area, production and yield) (apro_acs)
- Milk and milk products (apro_mk)
- Production of cow's milk on farms by NUTS 2 regions (agr_r_milkpr)
- Livestock and meat (apro_mt)
- Animal populations by NUTS 2 regions (agr_r_animal)
- Crops products (apro_cp)
Methodology / Metadata
- Animal production statistics (ESMS metadata file — apro_mt_esms)
- Crop statistics (area, production and yield) (ESMS metadata file — apro_acs_esms)
- Farm structure (ESMS metadata file — ef_esms)
Source data for maps (MS Excel)
- Crop statistics are governed by:
- Livestock and meat statistics are governed by:
- Regulation (EC) No 1165/2008 of 19 November 2008 concerning livestock and meat statistics and repealing Council Directives 93/23/EEC, 93/24/EEC and 93/25/EEC
- Milk statistics are governed by:
- Surveys on the structure of agricultural holdings are governed by:
- Regulation (EC) No 1166/2008 of 19 November 2008 on farm structure surveys and the survey on agricultural production methods
- European Commission — Agriculture and Rural Development — Direct aid schemes
- European Commission — Agriculture and Rural Development — EU agricultural product quality policy
- European Commission — Agriculture and Rural Development, see: