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Results of the December 2011 agricultural survey

The results of the December 2011 agricultural survey have been released by the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.
Thursday, 23 February 2012

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 2010 and December 2011 are:

  • Dairy herd: The dairy herd stood at 281,000 cows in December 2011, a year on year increase of 1%. The number of dairy cows has remained relatively stable since 2009, but annual milk production in 2011 was approximately 10% higher than in 2009 as a result of rising average milk yields.
  • Beef herd: The number of beef cows in December 2011 was 268,700 - an increase of 3% compared with the previous year. This continues a trend that has seen beef cow numbers increase by 8% 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 1.567 million cattle on farms, no change compared to December 2010. 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 a 4% increase in the sheep breeding flock to 926,800 between December 2010 and December 2011. These are the highest year-end breeding flock numbers since 2005. Improved margins in sheep farming in 2010 and 2011 have boosted producer optimism.
  • Pigs: The estimate of 37,800 sows and gilts showed a 3% fall from the 39,100 in December 2010. 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 decreased by 13% for 2011 and overall production fell 8%. The production of silage also fell (by 3%) from 2010. Wet weather in the summer of 2011 hampered forage operations on many farms.
  • Winter crops: The area of cereal crops in the ground at 1st December is estimated at 13,900 hectares, a 34% decrease compared with 2010. Wet autumn weather delayed harvesting and hindered planting across Northern Ireland.

Tables giving full details of the December Survey results are available on the DARD website.

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 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 on the DARD website.
  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.