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Results of the December 2012 Agricultural Survey

The results of the December 2012 agricultural survey have been released by the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.
Thursday, 28 February 2013

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 2011 and December 2012 are:

  • Dairy herd: The dairy herd stood at 278,400 cows in December 2012, a year on year decrease of 1 per cent. The number of dairy cows has remained relatively stable since 2009. Despite a lower average price in 2012 compared to 2011, milk production in 2012 was virtually unchanged from the previous year at 1,951 million litres.
  • Beef herd: The number of beef cows in December 2012 was 275,700, an increase of 3 per cent compared with the previous year. This continues a trend that has seen beef cow numbers increase by 11 per cent since 2007, when numbers were at a 20 year low. Improving beef prices over the period have been a key driver behind the change.
  • All cattle: In total there were 1.597 million cattle on farms, a 2 per cent increase compared to December 2011. Changes in total cattle numbers tend to follow movements in the breeding herd but lag the leading indicator due to the length of the production process. Also, age at slaughter is subject to change as producers respond to short-term price fluctuations and other seasonal factors. This has a knock-on effect on the total number of cattle present on farms.
  • Sheep: There was little change in the sheep breeding flock at 922,300 between December 2011 and December 2012. Improved margins in sheep farming in 2010 and 2011 boosted producer optimism and despite difficult weather conditions in 2012 and less favourable trading conditions, year-end ewe numbers have remained stable. Ewe lambs entering the breeding flock at the end of 2012 are down by one-third compared with the previous year, indicating that breeding flock numbers are likely to ease back slightly during the first half of 2013.
  • Pigs: The estimate of 36,700 sows and gilts showed a 3 per cent fall from the 37,800 in December 2011. 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 remained the same as 2011 but both overall production and area grown fell by 30 per cent. The production of silage also fell (9 per cent) from 2011. Sustained rainfall throughout the summer of 2012 hampered forage operations on many farms.
  • Winter crops: The area of cereal crops in the ground at 1st December is estimated at 14,000 hectares, a 1 per cent increase compared with 2011. As in 2011, wet autumn weather delayed harvesting and hindered planting across Northern Ireland.

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 recent DARD statistical press releases can be found here.
  3. For media enquiries please contact DARD Press Office 028 9052 4619 or email: DARD Press Office Out of hours contact the Duty Press Officer via pager number 07699 715 440 and your call will be returned.