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Cattle numbers at 60-year low as farmers hit by extreme weather events

Extreme weather events over the past year have seen virtually every sector in Scottish agriculture take a hit, according to new figures from the Scottish Government.

The June census revealed cattle numbers were at a 60-year low and there were 400 fewer people employed in farming compared to last year.

 

The only crop areas showing growth were strawberries, up slightly, and winter rye which has increased 14 fold since 2014 although with 5,800 hectares grown, mostly for biogas production, it is still relatively a minor crop.

 

The Beast from the East and the subsequent run of bad weather clearly affected sheep numbers, which fell to a five year low.

 

The total sheep count dropped by six per cent or 392,000, with lamb numbers falling by 8 per cent. The number of breeding ewes also decreased by 4 per cent to 2.6 million.

 

Cattle numbers have followed a similar trend, down to 1.76 million, continuing a long term decline since 1974 when there were 2.7 million on the ground. Both dairy and beef numbers were down slightly.

 

The data shows the total area of cereals in Scotland dropped by 3 per cent or 12,900 hectares.


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The area of barley, which is Scotland’s biggest crop, fell by one per cent or 3,300 hectares. Spring barley plantings actually increased by 3 per cent but this was more than offset by a 21 per cent drop in winter barley. Wheat area was down by 9 per cent and oats by 2 per cent.

 

The statistics also show an estimated increase in poultry numbers of 2 per cent to 14.5 million chickens.

 

This meant an increase of 4 per cent in birds used for meat production yet for the second year in a row the number of egg-laying birds outnumbered broilers.

 

In addition to these statistics, the number of people estimated to be working in agriculture has decreased by 400 to 66,600.

This figure includes occupiers who make up 56 per cent of the total. The number of seasonal workers, mostly employed in the soft fruit sector, was 8,200, though this is believed to have been an undercount.

 

Rented agricultural land has also fallen to about 22 per cent, its first noticeable drop since 2014.

 

There were more than 11,000 hectares of land rented under the new Modern Limited Duration Tenancy arrangements.

 

Despite the drops in numbers , agriculture continues to dominate the Scottish landscape with around 80 per cent of the area used for farming and agriculture related activity, with a total of 51,200 agricultural holdings.

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