Census provides valuable overview

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The preliminary results of the June 2018 Agricultural Census have been released by the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA).

The statistics are compiled from a survey of farm businesses augmented by administrative data. The preliminary results were based on the first 10,000 returns and, whilst this gives a good indication of the main trends, the numbers are liable to amendment in light of returns received and processed later. Final results will be published in November 2018 by which time all returns from farmers will have been processed.

The main changes between June 2017 and June 2018 are:

Cereals: The area of cereals grown decreased by 3% to 31,300 ha with winter wheat, winter barley and oats all down, mainly as a result of poor planting conditions in autumn 2017. The area of spring barley increased by 8% from 2017 and is the most popular cereal crop grown with 15,100 ha planted across Northern Ireland.

Other crops: The area in other field crops is unchanged from 2017 but there were the following changes within this category. The area of potatoes fell by 9% to 3,700 ha, returning to the same area planted in 2016.

The areas of arable crop silage and forage maize both increased by 11% to 4,000 ha and 1,500 respectively. For forage maize, this is the first notable increase in the area grown in ten years, following a long downward trend that began in 2008 when planting reached a peak of 3,500 ha.

Cattle: Total cattle numbers have fallen by 2% from June 2017 to 1.63 million head. The number of beef cows decreased by 4% to 255,900 head with dairy cows decreasing by 2% to 310,700 head. The reduction in cow numbers reflects increased culling during the long winter of 2017 when fodder was in short supply.

Sheep: There was a 1% decrease in the number of breeding ewes compared with 2017 with numbers falling to 962,600 head. Until this year’s decrease, ewe numbers had increased over the previous three years. Lamb numbers have fallen by 2% compared with a year ago, which corresponds with the decrease in ewe numbers. Overall, the total number of sheep recorded was approximately two million which is also a 2% decrease from June 2017.

Pigs: In comparison with 2017, sow numbers increased by 1% to 41,300, whereas, the overall pig herd was 2% smaller. The number of fattening pigs fell by 2% which has the most impact on total pig numbers.

Poultry:

Laying birds recorded for June 2018 increased by 5% to 4.2 million birds while broiler poultry numbers increased by 2% to reach 17 million. The laying bird population has shown strong growth since 2013 which is due to both the expansion of existing flocks and new producers entering the industry.

Farmers and workers: The size of the agricultural labour force is little changed from the previous year with 48,800 workers.

Commenting, UFU president Ivor Ferguson said the preliminary results of the June 2018 Agricultural Census reflect the challenging weather conditions many farmers faced in 2017 and early 2018.

“The very wet 2017 summer meant cattle were housed much earlier than usual, which increased feeding costs and put a strain on many businesses forcing increased culling of cows in particular,” he said.

“It’s also disappointing to see a decrease in the area of cereals and potatoes grown as result of poor planting conditions for winter crops in autumn 2017.

“The spell of dry weather in recent months will have helped farmers in some areas but has posed challenges in other areas, however we won’t know the full effect until the official census results are published early next year. Figures also illustrate that the recent growth of the egg sector in NI has continued with a further increase in the size of the laying flock.”