Dairy industry ‘mooooving’ forward

In 2012, we saw real changes in the agriculture mix in New Zealand since the 2007 Agricultural Production Census.
  • Image, 3 cows standing next to each other in the Manawatu.

    The number of dairy cattle in New Zealand continued to surge, up more than a million since 2007. In the same period the number of sheep fell, from 38 million in 2007 to 31 million in 2012.

    Strong international demand drives surge in dairy herd size

    Strong international demand for dairy products was the main driving force behind the increase in dairy cattle numbers. The value of dairy exports (milk powder, butter, cheese, and casein) grew significantly over the five years to 2012, with exports increasing 72 percent (to $12.5 billion) since 2007. The milk-solid price also increased, from $4.05 per kilogram in January 2007 to a record high of $7.95 in April 2011. Since then, the milk-solid price has dropped, although it was still relatively high (at $6.00) at the end of the 2011/12 season.

    There were 6.4 million dairy cattle in New Zealand at 30 June 2012, up 23 percent (1.2 million) from the total of 5.3 million in 2007. The additional 1.1 million dairy cows will produce around four times the total amount of milk that New Zealanders consume each year. There was an increase in the number of farms that converted to dairy farming and more farms were providing dairy grazing. The number of  dairy cattle in Canterbury rose sharply between 2011 and 2012, with an increase of 19 percent (194,000 dairy cattle).

    Sheep number drops below that of United Kingdom

    New Zealand had 31.3 million sheep at 30 June 2012, down 19 percent (7.2 million) since 2007. We now have fewer sheep than the United Kingdom's 2011 total sheep number. The dairy expansion and disappointing farm-gate prices for sheepmeat between 2007 and 2010 both contributed to the decline.

    Regions with the largest falls since 2007 were Canterbury, with 1.8 million fewer sheep, and Southland, down 1.3 million. In the North Island, the Manawatu-Wanganui region had a large decrease in the number of sheep, with 1.1 million fewer sheep in 2012 than in 2007.

    Beef cattle number continues to fall

    The total number of beef cattle has declined since 2007, despite relatively buoyant beef prices since 2010. At 30 June 2012 there were 3.7 million beef cattle, down 15 percent (659,000) compared with 2007.

    Because most beef farms are in the North Island, there were larger decreases in the North Island than in the South Island. Total beef cattle in the North Island declined by 489,000 animals (74 percent of the national decrease) and in the South Island by 171,000 animals (26 percent of the national decrease) between 2007 and 2012.

    Pressure from alternative land uses, such as dairy grazing, has contributed to the continuing decline in the number of beef cattle.

    Deer number declines

    The number of deer has been declining since 2004. There were 1.1 million deer in 2012, down 24 percent (335,000) since 2007. The national deer herd has been declining due to competition from other types of farming activities, and due to some large deer farms leaving the industry.

    Fewer pigs in New Zealand

    There were 314,000 pigs in New Zealand at 30 June 2012, a 14 percent decrease (53,000 pigs) from 2007. Production costs for pig farmers have increased by almost 33 percent since 2007, while prices for pork increased less than 6 percent in the same period.

    Other challenges faced by the pig industry included competition from imported pork, animal disease outbreaks, and increasing costs associated with animal welfare.

    New Zealand's largest pig farming region was Canterbury, with 54 percent of the national total.

    Source: Statistics New Zealand

There were 6.4 million dairy cattle in New Zealand at 30 June 2012.
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