Farming sector in Northern Ireland provides work for 48,800 says census

The north's agricultural sector provides work for more than 48,000 people, according to latest government figures

THE north's agricultural labour force comprises 48,800 workers and hasn't radically change in the last year, according to preliminary results of the June 2018 agricultural census from the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs.

The study, drawn from submissions from 10,000 farm businesses augmented by administrative data, outlines data across the whole gambit of agriculture in Northern Ireland, setting out the main trends in the sector.

It benchmarks differences between June 2017 and the same month this year, and the main changes include:

:: Cereals - the area of cereals grown decreased by 3 per cent to 31,300 hectares 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 per cent 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 per cent 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 per cent 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 per cent from June 2017 to 1.63 million head. The number of beef cows decreased by 4 per cent to 255,900 head with dairy cows decreasing by 2 per cent 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 per cent 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 per cent 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 per cent decrease from June 2017.

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

:: Poultry - Laying birds recorded for June 2018 increased by 5 per cent to 4.2 million birds while broiler poultry numbers increased by 2 per cent 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.

The statistics can be accessed in full at

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