Agricultural Land


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The ALC (Agricultural Land Classification) System is a land grading framework which was first developed by the Ministry of Agriculture in 1966, after which a huge survey took place in England and Wales which aimed to give strategic guidance on land quality for planning purposes.

Since then the Agricultural Land Classification) System hasbeen amended and revised many times and the maintenance and development of the current ALC system is the responsibility of DEFRA (The Department for Environmental Food and Rural Affairs). It allows agricultural land to be graded from best (grade 1) to worst (grade 5) and provides a consistent, country-wide system of land classification.

Assessment of agricultural land is based on the long-term, physical and chemical properties of the land and how they might restrict its use.

Such restrictions might include:

  • The range of crops that can be grown
  • Yield levels
  • Consistency of yield
  • Cost per yield

These restrictions are governed by factors such as:

  • Climate: temperature and rainfall, aspect ,exposure and frost risk
  • Site: gradient, microrelief and flood risk
  • Soil: texture, structure, depth and stoniness; uncorrectable chemical properties

A considerable proportion of land in England and Wales fall into the grade three category and for this reason grade 3 is divided in to two subgrades: 3a and 3b.

Land grades are an integral factor in the development planning process and wholly the ALC system is integrated into UK planning law. In development planning less weight is placed on the loss of moderate or poor agricultural land and in general it is easier to get planning permission for development on such land. Land falling into grades 1 – 3a are usually well protected for agricultural uses.

Grade

Principal use

Grade 1

Intensive arable cropping eg bulbs, vegetables, roots and cereals. No forestry

Grade 2

Arable cropping/intensive grassland eg cereals with roots and/or dairy cows. Limited forestry.

Grade 3a & 3b

Extensive arable cropping, rotational grassland eg cereals, oilseed rape & beans or grass leys for dairy cows, beef, sheep. Hardwood forestry mainly.

Grade 4

Permanent grassland/rough grazing eg beef and sheep rearing with limited dairying and cereals. Commercial softwood forestry.

Grade 5

Rough grazing often with rock outcrops, eg principally summer grazing with hardy sheep breeds and hill cattle. Limited softwood forestry.

 

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