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Farming sector trends highlighted in annual agricultural survey

More cattle and pigs, an increase in cereals and a steady flock of sheep was the trend in the 2012 stocktake for the Northern Ireland farming industry.

Figures just released from the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) showed a change in the makeup of the agriculture sector.

In total, Northern Ireland farmers held 1.6m cattle, 2% up on 2011 figures, made up of 278,400 dairy cows, while milk production was virtually unchanged at 1,950m litres, despite lower milk prices.

The beef cow herd stood at 275,700, up 3% on the year as the sector continues to recover.

"This continues a trend that has seen beef cow numbers increase by 11% since 2007, when numbers were at a 20-year low," the DARD 2012 Agricultural Survey said.

"Improving beef prices over the period have been a key driver behind the change." When it comes to sheep, numbers have remained steady at 922,300.

"Improved margins in sheep farming in 2010 and 2011 boosted producer optimism and despite difficult weather conditions in 2012 and less favourable trading conditions, year-end ewe numbers have remained stable," the survey said.

Pig numbers showed a 3% increase to 36,700 in 2012, with a bigger swing in numbers representative of an industry phenomenon known as the 'pig cycle'.

The relatively short production cycle for a litter of pigs means that farmers can respond quickly to changes in the price of feed for finished pigs and therefore supply tends to ebb and flow.

Meanwhile, 14,000 hectares of cereals were planted by the date the survey was taken on December 1, up around 1% on 2011.

Despite a second consecutive wet autumn, farmers were able to plant slightly more cereals in 2012 than in the difficult conditions which 2011 presented.

Belfast Telegraph