Results of December 2015 agricultural survey

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The results of the December 2015 agricultural survey have been released by the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.

The 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 2014 and December 2015 are:

· Dairy herd: The dairy herd stood at 313,600 cows in December 2015, a year on year increase of 2%. Expansion in cow numbers was accompanied by an increase in the volume of milk produced. Total milk output from farms was 2.3 billion litres in 2015, 2.7% higher than in 2014. Cow numbers are currently the highest on record.

· Beef herd: The number of beef cows in December 2015 was 261,000 an increase of 3% compared with the previous year. Cow numbers are in keeping with year-end values observed since support payments were decoupled in 2005. Over the last 10 years numbers have tended to vary within a relatively narrow range of between 250,000 and 275,000 cows.

· All cattle: In total there were 1.611 million cattle in December 2015, a 3% increase on the previous year. Changes in total cattle numbers follow the trend set by the breeding herd. Increases in both beef and dairy cow numbers have had a knock-on effect on the number of other cattle and this is seen in the higher numbers of animals under one year old. Stocks of winter forage and short price movements can also impact the timing of sales and therefore the total number of cattle present on farms during December.

· Sheep: There has been a 3% increase in the size of the sheep breeding flock between December 2014 and December 2015. It now stands at 914,200. This is the second year of increased numbers from a low of 864,600 recorded in 2013.

· Pigs: The pig breeding herd stood at 43,400 in December 2015, 6% higher than the previous year. The total herd stood at 533,400 in December 2015, an increase of 7% on December 2014 but 6% lower than June 2015.

· Hay and silage: The area of hay cut decreased by almost one-third in 2015 but yields improved. Overall production was 115,000 tonnes, some 26% lower than in 2014 and similar to levels recorded in December 2011. The production of silage also decreased from 2014 to approximately 9.4 million tonnes. The area cut was unchanged while yields were 4% lower.

· Winter crops: The area of cereal crops in the ground at 1 December 2015 is estimated at 17,700 hectares, a 6% increase compared with 2014.The area sown to winter wheat was up 6% to 8,600 hectares. The area in winter barley increased by 15% to 8,200 hectares, the highest recorded since December 1997 when 9,400 hectares was sown. Winter oats decreased by more than one-third to 900 hectares.