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Welsh beef herd falls but sheep breeding flock stabilises

Mar 23 2012

The number of beef cattle in Wales continues to fall while sheep figures are showing signs of a recovery, according to new figures.

The annual survey of agriculture presents a snapshot of the industry in December of each year.

The latest figures published by the Welsh Government for December 2011 show that the number of beef cattle aged two years or older has fallen from 232,500 to 220,000 in the course of the previous 12 months.

There are now 25,600 pigs in Wales, but this is less than half the number in 2000 when Welsh farms were home to 65,200 of the animals.

In the sheep sector, following years of decline from 1999 there are signs of a revival in numbers. The total breeding flock in December 2011 stands at 3,988,000 an increase of 217,000 over the 2010 figure.

The increase in the sheep breeding flock is to be welcomed and is a sign of growing confidence in this sector of the industry, said John Richards, Industry Information Officer with Hybu Cig Cymru. This is highlighted by the fact that there were over 100,000 more ewe lambs kept on Welsh farms in December 2011 than in 2010.

Encouraging market returns for lambs have led farmers to invest in the future, although growing costs are a worry and need to be kept under control.

The continuing decline in the beef sector is a cause for concern, but it's not only a problem in Wales, said Mr Richards. Global beef production is predicted to fall over the next 12 months, with only Australia and Brazil expected to buck the trend.

At the same time there is growing demand for red meat in China while Russia is struggling to increase its domestic beef production and therefore continues to import large volumes. HCC hopes that Welsh Beef will soon be given access to the Russian market.

HCC hopes that farmers in Wales will look positively at the worldwide demand for beef and recognise that there are opportunities opening up in markets across the globe. This, together with improved market returns, will hopefully stimulate them to increase production in Wales and reverse the downward trend in production, said Mr Richards.

The December Survey of Agriculture is an annual sample survey of around 5,000 of the 40,000 registered farm holdings in Wales.

This sample size is smaller than the June Survey of Agriculture and Horticulture. The June Survey is the primary source of statistical information about the agricultural industry. The purpose of the December Survey is to provide estimates at a mid-point between June Surveys.

This December trend mirrors the results of the June Surveys of Agriculture, but direct comparisons between the numbers from the June and December Surveys are not possible.

This is because of the cyclical nature of sheep farming. Lambs are usually born in the late winter and spring each year and so at the time of the June Survey, the lambs are often still present on the holding. By the time of the December Survey, however, the majority of the lambs have been sold for slaughter and the only young animals still on the farm are those that are either retained for breeding the following year or those for whom the farmer has yet to decide if they will be bred.

The full December survey can be found at the following Welsh Government web address http://wales.gov.uk/docs/statistics/2012/120307sdr402012en.pdf

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