Change in farm numbers and farm size

  • Image, farm numbers and farm size

    The number and area of farms involved in agricultural activities, and how they are changing, is important because agricultural activities can affect soil health and water quality. Irrespective of agricultural activity, the total number of farms in New Zealand and the total land area occupied by these farms are decreasing, while the average farm size is increasing. We present the number of farms for each agricultural activity operated, and changes in the land area used for each activity, between 2002 and 2016.

    We classified Change in farm numbers and farm size as supporting information.

    Key findings

    Trend not assessed

    Between 2002 and 2016, the total number of farms decreased 24.1 percent, from 69,510 in 2002 to 52,785 in 2016. The land area occupied by these farms decreased 10.3 percent over the same period.

    By agricultural activity:

    • The number of farms with dairying activity (at least one dairy cow) decreased 23.5 percent, from 19,659 in 2002 to 15,039 in 2016. The land area of farms involved in dairying increased 22.6 percent, indicating some dairy farms are getting larger and more specialised.
    • Combined beef and sheep farming continued to be the most extensive agricultural activity in 2016 for most farms. There were 29,655 farms that had at least one beef cattle and or at least one sheep in 2016, but this number was down 29.4 percent from 42,015 in 2002.
    • The number of farms with arable crops was up 16.9 percent from 9,714 in 2002 to 11,358 in 2016. The land area of farms with crops was also up (27.5 percent) for the same period, suggesting more diversification into arable cropping.
    • While the number of farms with horticultural activity decreased 34.8 percent from 13,221 in 2002 to 8,625 in 2016, the area of these farms increased 29.8 percent, indicating some farms with horticultural activity were getting larger.

    Regionally:

    • Most farms with dairying activity were in the Waikato (4,683) in 2016.
    • Southland, Canterbury, and Otago had more farms that had at least one dairy cow between 2002 and 2016, going against the decline in dairy farm numbers in all other regions.
    • Canterbury (5,034), Waikato (4,008), and Manawatu-Wanganui (3,375) had the most farms with at least one beef cattle or at least one sheep in 2016.
    • Manawatu-Wanganui (1,527), Waikato (1,485), and Canterbury (1,248) had the greatest number of farms involved in arable cropping activity.
    • Between 2002 and 2016, the largest percent increase in arable cropping was in Northland. Only three regions had a decrease in the number of farms with arable cropping: Canterbury, Southland, and Otago.
    • Bay of Plenty had the greatest number of farms with horticultural crops (2,259) in 2016. Only Marlborough had a percent increase, rather than a decrease, in the number of farms growing horticultural crops between 2002 and 2016.

    Figure 1

    Note: Farms are counted for each agricultural activity they are involved in, for example, a farm with one or more dairy cattle, and arable activity, is counted in both the dairy and arable categories.

    Figure 2

    Note: Farms are counted for each agricultural activity they are involved in. The total land area of the farm is added to each activity, for example, a 500-hectare farm with 100 dairy cattle and 1 sheep would contribute 500 hectares to both the 'Dairy' and 'Beef and sheep' activities.

    Figure 3

    Note: This is total farms in the agricultural production censuses and surveys that are reporting some land.

     

    Definition and methodology

    Farm numbers and farm size data come from agricultural production censuses and surveys conducted by Stats NZ with the Ministry for Primary Industries; specifically the Agricultural Production Census for 2002, 2007, and 2012 and the Agricultural Production Survey 2016. The farms surveyed include all businesses identified on Stats NZ’s Business Frame as having agricultural activity (eg engaged in horticulture, cropping, livestock farming, or exotic forestry operations). The Business Frame is a list of businesses in New Zealand, based on their registration for goods and services tax (GST) with Inland Revenue.

    The compulsory registration level for GST is $60,000 gross income. Consequently, there is a partial and unquantifiable coverage of farm units below this level.

    Information on farm numbers and farm size excludes some smaller farms. Unlike the primary farm activity output used for the agricultural and horticultural land use indicator from the same data source, the agricultural activities output for this indicator are not mutually exclusive. For example, a farm with one or more total dairy cattle and one or more total beef cattle will be counted as both ‘dairy’ and ‘beef and sheep’. For farm numbers, this produces higher counts than ‘primary farm activity’ which counts the total farm area under the one primary land use.

    Farm size may result in more hectares of land being used for an agricultural activity when there are several activities on a farm. It also gives equal representation to each activity so, for example, one sheep is counted the same as 500 sheep, and ‘other livestock activity’ will count as using more land than it actually does. This compares with ‘primary farm activity’ that determines farm type by giving all the data to the main activity, and does not count other, secondary activities.

    A crossover between farm size and primary farm activity is increasing as agricultural activity becomes more specialised. For example, dairying is more a stand-alone activity because it requires a lot of specialised equipment (eg milking shed, standing platforms) compared with beef and sheep farming that requires large pasture.

    Farm size data are therefore appropriate to compare changes in the number of farms with an agricultural activity, but not the absolute difference between agricultural activities. Breakdowns of agricultural activity should be treated with caution.

    Note, kiwifruit and wine-grapes are not included in 2016 because they were not included in the 2016 survey.

    Data quality

    We classified Change in farm size and numbers as supporting information.

    Relevance

    Image, Indirect relevance. This supporting information is an indirect measure of the ‘Resource use and management and other human activities’ topic.

    Accuracy

    Image, Medium accuracy. The accuracy of the data source is of medium quality.

    See Data quality information for more detail.

    Archived versions

    See Farm numbers (archived April 19 2018)

    See Farm size (archived April 19 2018)

    Published 19 April 2018

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