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The Annual Agricultural and Horticultural Census will be completed entirely online, for the first time in its history, due to COVID-19.

The Census, which opens today, is one of the world’s longest running surveys having been collated since 1847, and this is the first year it will be conducted completely online. The survey also has a short, four-week lifespan and the deadline for completion is Tuesday, 30 June.

Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots MLA said: “COVID-19 has caused us to rethink how we do things and find new ways of gathering information about the farming sector. Farmers are already under pressure with the current crisis, so in moving the survey online, we aim to make its completion easier and quicker.

“The survey has been compiled since 1847and is an extremely important tool to assess trends across the agriculture and horticulture sectors – including how many people work in the industry, how many livestock there are, where farms are located, how do sub-sectors such dairy, beef, pork, poultry and cereals compare. Last year’s survey highlighted some interesting facts:

  • There are 24,827 farm businesses in Northern Ireland.
  • For every person in Northern Ireland there are 14 chickens, one cow, one sheep and a third of a pig.
  • There are 48,423 farm workers in Northern Ireland (including farmers and their spouses.)
  • Most farms involved in livestock production with 93% assigned to a livestock type.
  • 10% were classified as dairy farms and 79% as cattle and sheep farms.
  • Grass accounted for almost 80% of all area farmed.

“We use all this information to help form many of my Department’s decisions and policies on supporting Northern Ireland’s farming industry. It’s therefore very important for people to fill in the survey and help us understand how and where to direct resources.”

The option to fill in the survey online has been available since 2003, but uptake of the online option has been low. The Minister continued: “Last year, only 18% of forms were filled in online. Obviously with the survey going completely online this year, I am encouraging everyone to take the 15 minute survey before the 30 June deadline, and ensure we can capture what’s happening across Northern Ireland.”

As ever, all the information collected during the census will be treated in a completely confidential manner. As an additional security feature within the online format of the survey, each of Northern Ireland’s farm businesses will shortly be provided with a unique five-digit code to safeguard identity when logging into the service.

However, if difficulties are encountered when completing the online form, please send an email to [email protected] or call 0300 200 7840 and ask for your local DAERA Direct Office. They will pass your details to us and a member of the Farm Census team will contact you as soon as they can.

To access the form go to DAERA’s online services at www.daera-ni.gov/onlineservices, click on the Farm Census link, use your unique five-digit code and complete details as requested. Not only will this provide a faster service for all concerned but in this time of crisis help maintain public health.