The South West is England's largest, most rural and agricultural region. The agricultural sector in the South West contributes £1.4 million to the national gross domestic product (GDP). This income is generated from the region's 36,900 agricultural holdings, which employ approximately 80,000 people. Farming is therefore one of the most valuable industries in the region (University of Plymouth, 2003).

Almost 2 million hectares (ha), more than two-thirds of the region's total land area, are used for agriculture. At 65%, arable grassland covers the greatest area, of which 41% is used for dairy farming, and 29% for cattle and sheep. Most of the arable land is found in t he north and east of the region (South West Observatory, 2002).

Over 360,000 ha of land are used for growing crops, producing around 2.5 million tonnes of cereal each year, of which 40% is barley. Most of the cereals produced are consumed as animal feed on the farm where they were grown. Other forms of agriculture in the region include fishing, fruit and vegetable crops, flowers and woodland (GOSW, 2003 & NFU, 2004).

Cream of the crop

Almost a fifth of all farms in the region are used for dairy, about 201,300 ha. This is the largest proportion in the UK. Most dairy farms are situated in Devon and Cornwall, the former having the largest number of dairy cattle in the UK. In total, the South West has 543,000 head of dairy cattle. This is just under a quarter of the UK's dairy herd.

In 2001, the herd produced over 2 million litres of milk, with the average cow producing 6,530 litres. Various inputs are required to produce this milk. Figure 6 illustrates the volume of resources (excluding water) required to process milk in the South West, during 2001 (C-Tech, 2002).

Figure 6
Resources required to produce milk in the South West, in 2001


Total resource use for the dairy industry, excluding water, amounted to 826,000 tonnes. This equates to 0.42 kg of resources used per litre of milk produced. In 2001, this resource use created £261,000 GVA, or over 20% of the total GVA for the South West agricultural industry (C-Tech, 2002).

What about outputs?

Dairy cows in the South West are responsible for over 11 million tonnes of waste every year, of which over 80% is slurry, 14% farmyard manure and 2% silage effluent. Other wastes include waste milk, plastics, paper and machinery. Most waste milk is caused by antibiotics being found in the milk, which is therefore not fit for human consumption (Environment Agency, 2000a).

Agricultural waste

The amount of agricultural waste produced in the South West is significant. Nearly a quarter of all agricultural waste in England and Wales is generated in the region. Most of this waste is farmyard manure and slurry (14 million tonnes). Table 13 provides a detailed breakdown of agricultural waste generated in the South West by county. This table excludes manure and slurry which are included as hidden flows (see Hidden Flows, Table 12).

Table 13
Agricultural waste estimate for the South West, by type and county, in 1998 (tonnes)
South West counties Former Avon* Cornwall Devon Dorset Gloucs Somerset Wiltshire Total agricultural waste
Total tonnage 19,800 81,600 32,000 58,100 63,600 73,200 90,300 418,600
of which…  
Vegetable & plant matter 17,400 71,500 17,400 52,500 57,900 65,000 83,700 365,400
Pesticide washings 700 3,700 700 1,800 1,600 1,800 2,500 12,800
Plastics & polymers 400 1,600 3,100 1,000 1,100 1,500 1,300 10,000
Paper & card 100 300 500 200 200 300 200 1,800
Tyres 200 600 1,100 400 400 600 400 3,700
Vehicles & machinery 200 500 800 300 400 500 400 3,100
Oils 200 600 1,000 500 400 600 600 3,900
Sheep dip 300 1,900 5,800 600 1,200 1,800 600 12,200
Milk, rubber & glass 300 900 1,600 800 400 1,100 600 5,700
* The former Avon council is now composed of North Somerset, Bath and North East Somerset, Bristol and South Gloucestershire.
Note: The most recent data available applies to 1998.
Note: Totals may differ due to rounding.
Source: Environment Agency, 2000a

In 2004, new agricultural waste management regulations were put in place. Agricultural waste is now controlled, which means that waste disposal or recovery on farms is no longer possible without a waste management licence or exemption. Farmers are required to send their waste to licensed sites, register a licensing exemption should they want to recycle waste on a farm, or apply for a license to continue disposing of waste on a farm.

Resource use and waste generation are therefore notable issues in the agricultural industry. Agriculture in the South West is a resource intensive industry, in particular livestock farming, which required 2.4 million tonnes of feed to produce an estimated 1.5 million tonnes of meat and meat products for consumption. Figure 7 illustrates the estimated resource flows associated with agriculture in the South West.

Figure 7
Resource flows associated with South West agriculture, in 2001


* Gross supply covers all raw food materials supplied to the South West before they are used in agriculture or processed.
** Other uses include food for tourists, storage and non-food uses such as oil for soap.
*** Gross consumption is the amount of food available for consumption.
**** Net food consumption is the estimated amount of food consumed excluding pet food, losses of edible food, e.g. during storage, in preparation, as plate-waste, quantities fed to domestic animals and pets, or thrown away.

Sources: C-Tech, 2002; Dairy Council, 2004; Environment Agency, 2000 & 2004a; FAO, 2002; GOSW, 2003; NFU, 2004; Objective One, 2004; South West Observatory, 2002; University of Plymouth, 2003 and Virdee & Causer, 2003