NFU Scotland said while it was encouraged by a slight increase in livestock numbers, the wet season last year meant a reduction in the area of winter sown crops had come as no surprise.
The latest results from the December Agricultural Survey, released by Scotland’s Chief Statistician, show the area of winter-sown crops in December 2015 was down on last December at 191,000 hectares (472,000 acres), with 6,400 ha (15,814 ac) less oilseed rape, 3,000 ha (7,413 ac) less barley and 2,400 ha (5,930 ac) less wheat, partially offset by 900 ha (2,224) more oats.
NFUS policy manager Peter Loggie said: “The wet weather last autumn hit both harvest and plantings and will have been a major factor in the fall in winter sown crops.
“The biggest drop was in oilseed rape, primarily because the cereal harvest was too late to clear fields in time to plant OSR. Low returns for oilseed rape may also be a factor.
“The wheat and winter barley plantings are generally down again because of weather issues and, in recent times, this has become the normal pattern for Scotland.”
Mr Loggie said the increase in oat plantings could be down to the growing demand from the breakfast cereal sector, but may also be related to new greening rules, and a need for Scottish growers to meet the three crop rule.
Cattle numbers rose marginally, by 0.3 per cent, to 1.74 million. There was a slight increase in beef cattle and a slight decrease in dairy cattle, though dairy cow numbers still increased. December sheep numbers increased one per cent to 4.96 million.
NFUS livestock policy manager John Sleigh said he was encouraged to see sheep and cattle numbers nudge upwards.
“I think many livestock farmers are sitting tight waiting for the new CAP support arrangements to play out,” he said.
“Furthermore, since last summer, we have seen a falling trade for cows and ewes. This means that farmers are reluctant to shed cows and ewes when prices are not good.
“Despite the current challenges being felt in the beef and lamb market, Scottish farmers are remaining resilient. We should all take confidence that during this tough time Scottish livestock farmers are still producing top quality beef and lamb for our millions of consumers.”
Pig numbers continued to rise in 2015, with a 2.7 per cent increase to 331,000, driven by an increase in the breeding herd.