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Dairy Cattle on the rise in New Zealand
May 19, 2017

Dairy cattle numbers have risen by 133,000 to 6.6 million in the last year after a momentary dip brought on by plummeting milk prices.

But industry good body DairyNZ said it was “extremely surprised” by the figures, which have been released by Statistics NZ and give a snapshot of numbers at the end of June, 2016.

DairyNZ does its own count at a different time of the year and tallies only milking cows.

Despite calls from a number of quarters for the nation’s cow herd to be reduced, Prime Minister Bill English recently said the Government was “not setting out to slash agriculture” and destroy rural communities.

A report by UK-based Vivid Economics, commissioned by 35 New Zealand MPs, has suggested reducing pastoral stock by 35 per cent as a way to get the country to a target of net zero carbon emissions.

Statistics NZ said dairy cattle numbers reached an all time high in June 2014 when the population stood at 6.7 million. Then, farmers were receiving a record $8.40 per kg of milksolids before prices plunged to $3.90.

A year later, at the end of June 2015, numbers were cut by 213,000 as farmers struggled, some of them highly indebted.

Statistics NZ spokesman Stuart Pitts said the North and South islands were a contrast. In the north, especially in traditional dairying areas such as Waikato, Taranaki, and Whanganui/Manawatu, the dairy herd increased by almost 250,000 cows in the year to the end of June 2016.

Total dairy cattle in Manawatu-Wanganui increased by 73,000 (16 per cent) and in Waikato by 93,000 (5 per cent).

“We think that even though prices were still depressed at the end of 2015, in anticipation of rising prices, farmers in the north decided to rebuild herds.

“Because their farms rely mostly on pasture, they are cheaper to operate and so they could afford to take on more cows.”

On the other hand, numbers in the South Island fell by 104,000. Otago fell by 73,000 (19 per cent).

“South Island farms tend to be more high cost, with expensive inputs such as palm kernels,” Pitts said.

Dairy NZ chief executive Tim Mackle said his organisation’s figures were based on “extremely accurate” tallies by milk companies and LIC, taken at the “peak milking” time of mid-November.

These recorded milking cows, and not the total dairy cattle herd.

“StatsNZ collect their data earlier in the year and may include cows that are not going to be milked. Some of these cows that are not milked will become cattle (not dairy) and approximately 1 million cows are culled each year for meat.

“Our last count was that there were under 5 million cows (milking) in the 2015-16 season,” Mackle said.

He expected milking cow numbers to reduce slightly for the current season but would know more accurately by November.

Exports of dairy products to the end of December 2016 were worth $12.8 billion – more than 26 per cent of all exports and a value of almost $2500 for every milking cow.

Even though there were four times as many sheep as dairy cattle in New Zealand, sheep-related exports were valued at $3.6b, just over one-quarter of dairy’s total.

Meanwhile sheep and deer continue to decline.

The national sheep flock to June last year numbered 27.5 million, down 5.3 per cent on 2015.

By region, Manawatu-Wanganui is home to the largest population of sheep (5.04 million) followed by Otago (4.8 million), Canterbury (4.5 million) and Southland (3.7 million).

Deer have fallen by 7.3 per cent to 835,000. In 2005 there were 1.7 million, but the great financial crisis and conversion of farms to dairy has contributed to the reduction.

Numbers of beef cattle are now 3.5 million, virtually the same as the year before.

The Statistics NZ survey sent out forms to 27,000 livestock farms, of which 80 per cent returned answers. The results have been adjusted for non-responses, and the margin of error is 3 per cent.


Source: NZFarmer


Summer 2018