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Cropping and livestock pattern statistics

From Statistics Explained

Data from October 2010. Most recent data: Further Eurostat information, Main tables and Database.

This article presents data on agriculture and the environment within the European Union (EU). Around 40 % of the EU-27’s land area is farmed, highlighting the importance of farming for the EU’s natural environment.

Links between the natural environment and farming practices are complex: farming has contributed over the centuries to creating and maintaining a variety of valuable semi-natural habitats within which a wide range of species rely for their survival; on the other hand, inappropriate agricultural practices and land use can have an adverse effect on natural resources, through the pollution of soil, water and air, or the fragmentation of habitats and a subsequent loss of wildlife.

Figure 1: Cropping pattern - utilised agricultural area (UAA) by crop type, 2007
(% of total UAA) - Source: Eurostat (ef_lu_ovcropaa)

Main statistical findings

Figure 2: Livestock pattern - number of livestock units (LSU) by type, 2007 (1)
(% of total number of LSU) - Source: Eurostat (ef_ov_lssum)
Map 1: Livestock density - livestock units per hectare of utilised agricultural area, by NUTS 2 regions, 2007
(LSU per ha)- Source: Eurostat (aei_ps_ld)

Cropping patterns

In 2007, the total utilised agricultural area covered 172 million hectares in the EU-27, of which 60.5 % was composed of arable land, while 32.9 % of the area was accounted for by permanent grassland, and 6.4 % by permanent crops; kitchen gardens covered just 0.2 % of the utilised agricultural area in the EU-27.

Figure 1 shows an analysis of the main uses of agricultural land in each Member State in 2007. Several Member States (for example, Finland and Denmark) reported that almost the entirety of their utilised agricultural area was devoted to arable land, while the relative share of arable land in total utilised agricultural area was above 50 % in 20 of the Member States. Several countries (for example, Greece, Spain, Italy and Cyprus) tended to have a much higher proportion of permanent crops than the corresponding shares recorded in other Member States; this may result from favourable climatic conditions and the commercial importance of crops such as olive trees, vineyards or other fruit trees. In contrast, other Member States had considerable areas of permanent grasslands (for example, Ireland and the United Kingdom), which may be associated with relatively high numbers of grazing animals. Malta was the only Member State to report a relatively high share of its utilised agricultural area devoted to kitchen gardens.

Livestock patterns

In 2007, the total livestock population in the EU-27 amounted to 136 million livestock units (LSU), of which cattle represented 47.7 %, followed by pigs (27.6 %), poultry (13.8 %) and sheep (7.6 %).

Figure 2 shows the share of different livestock categories in each Member State in 2007. Cattle were particularly dominant in Luxembourg (85.0 %) and Ireland (81.0 %), and a majority of the livestock population (in LSUs) was composed of cattle in 13 of the Member States. In Denmark, pigs represented 70.6 % of the total livestock population (in LSUs): Denmark was the only Member State where pigs accounted for more than half of the livestock population, although pigs were the largest category of livestock in four other Member States (Cyprus, Hungary, Spain and Malta). More than one third (38.4 %) of the livestock in Greece was composed of sheep (while goats accounted for a further 19.0 %; goats are included within the residual category of others in Figure 2). Greece was the only Member State where sheep were the largest category of livestock, the next highest share being recorded in the United Kingdom (24.2 %).

Map 1 shows the regional distribution of livestock densities. EU-27 livestock density averaged 0.78 livestock units per hectare of utilised agricultural area in 2007 – an overall decrease of 4.9 % compared with 2003 (the first reference period for which an EU-27 figure is available). The highest livestock densities were recorded in a number of regions across the north of Belgium and the south of the Netherlands, as well as in Malta (which at the NUTS 2 level is a single region). At the other end of the range, the lowest livestock densities were registered in a range of disparate regions, such as regions with capital cities (for example, Paris and Vienna), tourist destinations (such as the Algarve), remote areas (like the Highlands and islands of the United Kingdom), or more generally the south of Italy (for example, Puglia, Basilicata and Sicily), the east of Austria (Burgenland), Estonia and Latvia.

Data sources and availability

All the data within this article come from farm structure surveys, also referred to as surveys on the structure of agricultural holdings. These surveys are carried out by all EU Member States every ten years (the full scope being the agricultural census), with intermediate sample surveys being carried out three times between the main surveys.

The legal basis for the farm structure survey is Regulation 1166/2008 of 19 November 2008 on farm structure surveys and the survey on agricultural production methods.

The basic unit underlying the farm structure survey is the agricultural holding: a technical-economic unit, under single management, engaged in agricultural production. The survey covers all agricultural holdings with utilised agricultural area of at least one hectare, as well as smaller holdings of less than one hectare if their market production exceeds certain thresholds.

The Member States collect information from individual agricultural holdings; the information covers land use, livestock numbers, rural development, management and farm labour input. The survey data can be summed at different geographic levels to produce aggregates for the Member States, regions, and for main (ten-yearly) surveys also districts. The data can also be arranged by size class, area status, legal status of the holding, objective zone and farm type.


The complex relationship between agriculture and the environment has resulted in environmental concerns and safeguards being integrated within the EU’s common agricultural policy (CAP), with particular attention being paid to reducing the risks of environmental degradation through cross-compliance criteria (as a condition for benefiting from direct payments, farmers must comply with certain requirements, some related to environmental protection), incentives and targeted agri-environmental measures, in order to enhance the sustainability of agro-ecosystems.

The importance attached to assessing the interaction between agriculture and the environment is underlined by a European Commission Communication COM(2006) 508 ‘Development of agri-environmental indicators for monitoring the integration of environmental concerns into the common agricultural policy’, containing a list of 28 agri-environmental indicators, which are to be used to monitor the integration of environmental concerns into agricultural policy at an EU, national and regional level; the indicators relate to farming practices, agricultural production systems, pressures and risks to the environment, and the state of natural resources.

Cropping patterns provide an insight into the relationship between the environment and farming developments within the EU. Permanent grasslands (when extensively managed) are generally considered as the most important crop from a nature conservation perspective, providing habitats for many wild plants and animal species. The grazing of animals on grassland, if not too heavy, can contribute to conservation in semi-natural habitats – as plants and animals benefit from lightly or moderately grazed pastures, whereas heavy grazing is likely to reduce biodiversity. The quality (or balance between intensive and extensive farming practices) of grasslands can be roughly assessed by studying livestock densities. Higher livestock densities are likely to contribute more greenhouse gas emissions, as a result of manure production and enteric fermentation, and may also result in nutrient leaching into the water and air. In contrast, a low level of livestock density may increase the need for industrial fertilisers to be used on agricultural land or lead to the risk of land abandonment, which may also result in an elimination of environmental diversity.

See also

Further Eurostat information


Main tables

Structure of agricultural holdings (t_ef)
Livestock density index (tsdpc450)


Main agricultural land types
Major livestock categories
Livestock density 
Structure of agricultural holdings (ef)

Dedicated section

Methodology / Metadata

Source data for figures and map (MS Excel)

External links