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Results of the December 2013 agricultural survey

The results of the December 2013 agricultural survey have been released by the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.
Thursday, 27 February 2014

This survey provides estimates of the numbers of cattle, sheep and pigs on farms at the beginning of December. In addition, it provides information on levels of hay and silage production and sowings of winter cereals.

Cattle data (except heifer estimates) are extracted from APHIS, the identification, registration and movement database for cattle in Northern Ireland. Sheep data are obtained from the Annual Sheep and Goat Inventory. Pig numbers and all the crop areas are derived from a sample survey of farmers.

The main changes between December 2012 and December 2013 are:

  • Dairy herd: The dairy herd stood at 281,800 cows in December 2013, a year on year increase of 1%. Since 2008, the number of dairy cows on farms in December has been relatively stable, remaining in a band no more than 2% above or below 282,000 head. Milk production in 2013 was virtually unchanged from the previous year at 1,980million litres.
  • Beef herd: The number of beef cows in December 2013 was 258,400 a decrease of 6% compared with the previous year. This is the lowest level since 2009 and reverses three years of consistent increases. Increasing costs of production for suckled beef and the impacts of bad weather in the second half of 2012 and the first half of 2013 are believed to be the main drivers behind this fall.
  • All cattle: In total there were 1.554million cattle on Northern Ireland farms, a 3% decrease compared to December 2012. Changes in total cattle numbers tend to follow movements in the breeding herd but the full impact lags the lead indicator due to the length of the production process. Changes in specifications for finished cattle and short price movements can also have a knock-on effect on the timing of sales and therefore the total number of cattle present on farms.
  • Sheep: There has been a 6% fall in the size of the sheep breeding flock between December 2012 and December 2013. It now stands at 864,600 which is the lowest level recorded since 2008. As with cattle, increasing input costs has put downward pressure on margins, while bad weather (especially in Spring 2013) increased losses. Ewe lambs entering the breeding flock at the end of 2013 are down by over 20% compared with the previous year, indicating that breeding flock numbers are likely to ease further during 2014.
  • Pigs: The pig breeding herd stood at 40,500 in December 2013 and the total herd at 455,300, a 1% increase on the previous year. Pig numbers are subject to greater volatility than is found in most other livestock sectors, because the relatively short production period for pigs means that farmers can respond quickly to movements in farm-gate price or changes in the cost of feeds - the main input to pig production.
  • Hay and silage: Hay yields fell in 2013 but the area cut doubled and overall production increased by 79% to 143,000 tonnes. Farmers took advantage of good weather in July to replenish fodder stocks depleted in the spring. The production of silage also increased 11% from 2012 to over 9million tonnes. Again good weather from the middle of the season onwards resulted in a 5% increase in yield and a 6% increase in the area cut.
  • Winter crops: The area of cereal crops in the ground at 1 December 2013 is estimated at 17,000 hectares, a 21% increase compared with 2012. This sees a return to more normal levels of sowing after two bad seasons when wet autumn weather delayed harvesting and hindered planting across Northern Ireland. Winter barley, at 7,900 ha is at a level similar to previous highs for the crop recorded in 2009 and 2010. Winter wheat, at 8,600 ha is still some way below the high of 12,400 ha recorded in 2010.

Tables giving full details of the December survey results are available here.

Notes to editors:

  1. The survey results were prepared by the Policy and Economics Division of the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, Dundonald House, Upper Newtownards Road, Belfast, BT4 3SB.
  2. All media queries should be directed to the DARD Press Office on 028 9052 4619 or email: DARD Press Office. Out of office hours please contact the duty press officer via pager number 07699 715 440 and your call will be returned.
  3. All recent DARD statistical press releases can be found at here.
  4. National Statistics are produced to high professional standards set out in the National Statistics Code of Practice. They undergo regular quality assurance reviews to ensure that they meet customer needs. They are produced free from any political interference. You can also find National Statistics on the internet.