The number of dairy cows in Northern Ireland has decreased slightly from 317,100 head, an all-time high, in June 2016 to 315,800 head in June 2017.

The figures were released in the June 2017 agricultural census by Northern Ireland’s Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs.

The total number of cattle on farms remained much the same as June 2016, but beef cattle numbers have also followed a downward trend from 269,700 in 2016 to 267,100 head this year.


The area of cereals grown in Northern Ireland decreased by 2% to 32,600ha with winter wheat, winter barley and oats all decreasing in 2017, according to the census.

The area of spring barley grown is similar to the previous year and remains the most popular cereal crop with 14,700ha planted across Northern Ireland.

Meanwhile, the area in other field crops is 7% higher than last year, which DAERA has said is due to increases in the areas planted under potatoes, arable crop silage and forage maize.

The area of potatoes increased by 9% to 4,100ha, building on last year’s recovery from the record low of 3,800ha grown in 2015.

The area of arable crop silage increased by 4% to 3,500ha 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 3,500ha grown in 2008.


There was a 2% rise in the number of breeding ewes in Northern Ireland this year 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 2.1m, 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, the data shows.

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 1 June 2017 increased by 10% to 3.9m birds, while broiler poultry numbers increased by 9% on 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

Meanwhile, 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 offset by an increase in the number of other regular workers, both paid and unpaid.

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