New Zealand: Island Nation is International Agricultural Powerhouse

Dairy cattle in New Zealand

Dairy cattle numbers in New Zealand have more than doubled in the past 25 years — from 3 million in 1989 to 6.7 million in 2014. Photo: Cindy Preston/DNR.

This last February I accompanied 13 other Washington Agriculture and Forestry (Ag.Forestry) Leadership Program alumni and their spouses on a visit to New Zealand. Our 15-day tour began on the North Island then proceeded to the South Island with a mixture of agriculture and forestry stops and some fun side trips.

In Auckland our group had the opportunity to meet with James Donegan, the US Consul General; Michael Hearn, executive director of the American Chamber of Commerce New Zealand; and Anna Jackson, senior policy analyst for the Ministry for Primary Industries.

New Zealand is a small island nation of about 4.4 million people, 65,000 farms & orchards. It is relatively pest and disease free with climate conditions consisting of abundant rain and sunshine with mild to warm temperatures. Grass grows all year round in most areas and livestock are grazed in large paddocks.

Land use in New ZealandWith 11.8 percent of the population employed in agriculture and forestry, 85 percent of New Zealand agricultural produce is exported, an amount that represents 66 percent of all merchandise that the nation exports. New Zealand is the world’s 12th largest agricultural exporter (by value), number one exporter of sheep meat and dairy products (mostly dried milk), and the number two wool exporter.

Dry conditions in the northern portions of the North Island and continued land use changes in the South Island have caused New Zealand’s sheep numbers to decrease by 3.2 percent (a decline of 1.2 million sheep) over the 2013-14 season. In the same period both beef and deer numbers fell while dairy numbers increased.

sheep in New Zealand

There are approximately 29.4 million sheep in New Zealand. Most are dual-purpose crosses raised for wool and meat.

There are approximately 29.4 million sheep in New Zealand. Some straight Merino are still run in the high country but the majority of sheep now are dual-purpose crosses raised for wool and meat. They are generally Romney-Texel crosses with a few Suffolk or Hampshire.

New Zealand dairy production has risen from 3 million dairy cattle in 1989 to 6.7 million (5.26 million in calf or milk) in 2014. New Zealand is now cow rich and sheep poor. Many sheep stations and timber lands have been converted to dairy pastures.

While some cows look straight Holstein very few are – the local stock is mix of Brown Swiss, Jersey or Guernsey with the Holsteins for smaller cows. Cows graze out in the paddocks except when milked twice a day. Dairy farmers take a 3-month break from milking since cows are only milked nine months of the year. The majority of milk is exported as powdered milk to Asia.

Some other facts about agriculture in New Zealand are:

  • Beef cattle are mostly Angus or Herford -Angus cross.
  • Just under 1 million elk and red deer are raised in paddocks right alongside of beef and dairy cows and sheep.
  • Cattle, sheep, elk and deer are mostly grass-fed but may be supplemented with some haylage. Barley, maize, wheat and peas are also grown in the arable farming areas.
  • Horticulture: An estimated at 306,410 acres. Kiwifruit (30,072 acres) and wine grapes (82,587 acres and growing) are the larger crops. Kiwifruit is branded and marketed cooperatively.
  • Vineyards in the Auckland area tend to be smaller with the larger vineyards covering hundreds or even thousands of acres are to be found on the South Island.
Ag Forestry visitors

More than a dozen Ag Forestry Program alumni visited New Zealand with their spouses recently.

While in New Zealand our group traveled by plane, bus, barge, van, ferry, train and, eve by grain truck. We had a wonderful trip and it is a very beautiful county that has a lot of similarities to Washington. I would recommend visiting New Zealand, but be ready for the long flight.

By Cindy Preston, DNR Agriculture Lease Specialist.