Statistical press release - Results of the December Agricultural Survey 2016

Date published: 23 February 2017

The results of the December 2016 Agricultural Survey have been released by the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs.

DARD statistics

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 2015 and December 2016 are:

Dairy herd

The dairy herd stood at 312,000 cows in December 2016, a 1% decrease from the previous year which had the highest number on record. This brings to an end the year on year increases in dairy cow numbers that were experienced for the past three years. Total milk production decreased by 2.5% in 2016 and this can partially be attributed to the decrease in cow numbers. 

Beef herd

The number of beef cows in December 2016 was 263,500 an increase of 1% compared with the previous year. Beef cow numbers are in keeping with year-end values observed since support payments were de-coupled in 2005. Over the last 11 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 1.625 million cattle in December 2016, a 1% increase on the previous year. Changes in total cattle numbers follow the trend set by the breeding herd. 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.


The number of breeding ewes in December 2016 was similar to that of the previous year but the number of ewe lambs tupped decreased by 11%. The total breeding flock now stands at 912,700. Lamb numbers in December increased by 13% which follows the increased numbers reported at the June Census results. Poor grass growing conditions in early spring coupled with wet conditions in the west of the province will have hampered the finishing of lambs and thereby contributed to the higher numbers retained in December. Overall, the total number of sheep recorded in December 2016 was 1,363,500 which is the highest level recorded since December 2004.


The pig breeding herd stood at 43,800 in December 2016, 1% higher than the previous year. Total pig numbers were 534,500 in December 2016 and relatively unchanged from 2015 levels.

Hay and silage

The area of hay cut decreased by almost one-fifth in 2016 with yields also falling. As a consequence overall production was 82,000 tonnes, some 29% lower than in 2015 and similar to levels recorded in December 2012. The production of silage decreased for a second year in a row to approximately 8.7 million tonnes, the lowest amount recorded since 2012. Both the area cut and average yield were lower in 2016 compared to 2015. Relatively poor grass growth in early spring, volatile grass growth in the summer, and difficult harvesting conditions due to high rainfall would all have restricted the amount of silage saved. 

Winter crops

The area of cereal crops in the ground at 1 December 2016 is estimated at 15,800 hectares, an 11% decrease compared with 2015. The area sown to winter wheat and winter barley were both down 14% to 7,300 and 7,100 hectares respectively. The area of winter oats returned to similar levels as December 2014 with 1,400 hectares planted.

Tables giving full details of the December Survey results are available on  the Statistical bulletins page.

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. These statistics are released according to the Statement of Compliance with the Pre-release access to Official Statistics Order (NI) 2009
  3. These results were compiled from a sample of approximately 4,100 statistical returns, the APHIS cattle tracing system and Annual Sheep and Goat Inventory returns.
  4. All recent DAERA statistical press releases can be found on the Statistical bulletins page.
  5. 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
  6. All media queries should be directed to the DAERA Press Office on 028 9052 4619 or email DAERA Press Office:
    Out of office hours please contact the duty press officer via pager number 07623 974 383 and your call will be returned.
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