Suckler cow numbers tumble in Northern Ireland

A significant reduction in the number of suckler cows has been identified in the final results of the June 2014 Agricultural Census in Northern Ireland have been released by the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD).

The statistics are compiled from a survey of farm businesses augmented by administrative data. The statistics provide robust estimates of crop areas, numbers of livestock and of farmers and workers on active farm businesses on the survey date of June 2 2014.

Total cattle numbers were 1% lower compared with June 2013. The number of dairy cows, increased by 5% to 294,200 head and the number of beef cows fell by 6% to 254,900. DARD says the changes reflect the contrasting economic situation experienced by the two sectors in the 12 months to June 2014. It says while relatively strong farm gate prices encouraged expansion in dairy, tight margins discouraged suckled beef production.

In terms of cereals the census shows the area of cereals was 5% lower in 2014 than in 2013, while the overall cropping area was 4% down. The pattern of cereal production changed significantly with the area sown to winter wheat and winter barley up by 7 and 27% respectively to a combined 15,200 ha. Spring barley was down 18% to 16,800ha.The area of potatoes was little changed on the previous year at 4,200 ha. The area of arable silage fell by 2%, stabilising at 4,000 ha following an upward trend that began in 2009. The area of forage maize was also little changed over 2013 at 1,600 ha, but was less than half the area grown at the peak of the crops popularity in 2008 when 3,500 ha was grown.

There was a 1% fall to 910,600 in the number of breeding ewes compared with 2013. Numbers have fluctuated quite a bit in recent years, falling to a 20 year low of 875,900 in 2010 before rallying to 937,500 in 2012. Despite lower ewe numbers, the number of lambs on farms in June was 3% higher than in 2013. Good spring and early summer weather limited losses this year, in sharp contrast to the situation 12 months earlier.

Sow and gilts in pig increased by 1% compared with a year earlier to 42,800. The overall pig herd was 8% bigger, largely as a result of growth in the number of fattening pigs. This was due to improving productivity and the import of pigs for finishing.

Overall poultry numbers were 5% higher than in June 2013 with the biggest increases in the number of laying birds (up 25%) and in the breeding flock (up 12%).

There was little change in the number of farmers in Northern Ireland compared with 2013.

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