Preliminary results of the June Agricultural Census 2017

Date published: 31 August 2017

The preliminary results of the June 2017 Agricultural Census have been released by the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA).

DARD statistics

The statistics are compiled from a survey of farm businesses augmented by administrative data. The preliminary results were based on the first 9,000 returns and, whilst they should give an indication of the main trends, are liable to be amended in the light of returns received and processed later. Final results will be published in November 2017 by which time all returns from farmers will have been processed.

The main changes between June 2016 and June 2017 are:


The area of cereals grown decreased by 2% to 32,600 ha with winter wheat, winter barley and oats all decreasing in 2017. The area of spring barley grown is similar to the previous year and remains the most popular cereal crop with 14,700 ha planted across Northern Ireland.

Other crops:

The area in other field crops is 7% higher than last year, which is due to increases in the areas planted under potatoes, arable crop silage and forage maize. The area of potatoes increased by 9% to 4,100 ha, building on last year’s recovery from the record low of 3,800 ha grown in 2015.  The area of arable crop silage increased by 4% to 3,500 ha whereas, the area of forage maize increased by 12% to 1,400ha.  For forage maize, this ends the downward trend that has been experienced since the peak of 3,500 ha grown in 2008.


Total cattle numbers were unchanged from June 2016. From its all-time high in 2016, the number of dairy cows decreased slightly to 315,800 head. The number of beef cows decreased by 1% to 267,100 head.


There was a 2% rise in the number of breeding ewes compared with 2016. Numbers have fluctuated in recent years, falling to a 20 year low of 876,000 in 2010 before increasing to 972,000 this year, which is the third year in a row of increases and the highest level since 2006. Lamb numbers have increased by 2% which corresponds with the increase in ewe numbers. Overall, the total number of sheep recorded was almost 2.1 million which again is a level not seen since 2006.


In comparison with 2016, sow numbers increased by 3% to 41,400, whereas, the overall pig herd was 8% larger. Most pig categories are showing an upward trend but the growth in the number of fattening pigs has caused the most increase in total numbers.


Laying birds recorded for the 1st June 2017 increased by 10% to 3.9 million birds while broiler poultry numbers increased by 9% at that date. The laying bird population has shown strong growth since 2013 and this is partly due to new producers who have entered the industry.

Farmers and workers:

The size of the agricultural labour force is relatively unchanged from the previous year with 47,800 workers. There has been a small decrease in the number of full-time farmers but this was off-set by an increase in the number of other regular workers both paid and unpaid.

Notes to editors: 

  1. The survey results were prepared by Statistics and Analytical Services Branch, CAP Policy, Economics and Statistics Division of the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, Dundonald House, Upper Newtownards Road, Belfast, BT4 3SB.
  2. In an effort to reduce the compliance burden on farmers, the survey form sent to farmers omitted most of the cattle and all of the poultry and pig questions. Survey information was then augmented with data from APHIS for missing cattle variables, the Update of the Northern Ireland Bird Register for poultry and the Annual Inventory of Pigs.
  3. Full details of the coverage of the census and of terms used were given in the booklet “The Agricultural Census in Northern Ireland: Results for June 2016” (DAERA, 2017) and will be repeated in the 2017 issue of this annual publication, available in January 2018.  These booklets may be accessed on the Department’s internet site, free of charge.
  4. These statistics are released according to the Statement of Compliance with the Pre-release access to Official Statistics Order (NI) 2009.
  5. These preliminary results were compiled from a sample of approximately 9,000 statistical returns, augmented with data from the APHIS cattle tracing system, the Update of the NI Bird Register returns and the Annual Inventory of Pigs.
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  9. 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.

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