Agriculture in the United Kingdom uses 69% of the country’s land area, employs 1.5% of its workforce (476,000 people) and contributes 0.6% of its gross value added (£9.9 billion). Most British farms produce a variety of products. The type of farming varies with the soil and climate. The better farming land is generally in the lowlands. The eastern areas are predominantly arable, and the western predominantly for grazing. Chief crops (with estimated 1999 production in tons) were barley, 6,510,000; wheat, 14,870,000; potatoes, 7,100,000; sugar beets, 10,228,000; oats, 540,000; and oilseed rape, 1,667,000.
Mechanization and research have greatly increased agricultural productivity; between 1989 and 1999, for example, production of wheat per hectare rose 12%; of barley, 7%; and of sugar beets, 32%. Consequently, the United Kingdom in the 1990s produced 60% of its total food needs, whereas prior to World War II (1939–45), it produced only about 33%, and in 1960, less than half. The estimated number of tractors in the United Kingdom in 1998 was 500,000, as against 55,000 in 1939; some 47,000 combines were also in use.