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Changing Patterns In New Zealand Farming

Farming patterns are changing at a regional level according to the 1999 agricultural production survey.

Although a move away from sheep and beef farming to dairying, deer and forestry activities are reasonably well recognised at a national level, they are perhaps less well understood at a regional level.

The 1999 agricultural survey was developed in collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, and is the first agricultural survey conducted by Statistics New Zealand since 1996.

Total national sheep numbers are estimated at 45.7 million head at 30 June 1999. This was 3.6 per cent less than the 47.4 million recorded at 30 June 1996. Sheep numbers have been declining since 1988 and are now at their lowest level since 1957. The largest fall in sheep numbers occurred in Southland, which had 719,296 fewer sheep than in 1996. There were also large falls in Waikato and Gisborne, with the latter in particular being affected by the drought in 1998 as well as seeing a shift towards forestry.

Changes in beef farming also have a marked geographical dimension. The decline in beef numbers was predominantly driven by a decrease in the North Island herd, down 7.2 per cent. In the South Island, on the other hand, beef numbers are up 4.8 per cent since 1996, with Southland, Otago and Canterbury all increasing the size of their beef herds. Despite the North Island decline, beef farming activity is greater in the north than in the south, with the Manawatu-Wanganui, Waikato and Northland regions carrying over 40 per cent of the national herd.

The number of dairy cattle increased 3.6 per cent between 1996 and 1999, to an estimated 4.3 million head. This is over one million more than were recorded in 1989. The bulk of the increase in dairy numbers occurred in South Island regions, in particular, Southland, Canterbury and Otago. The number of dairy cattle in Southland increased by 69.4 per cent or 95,414 head from 1996 to 1999. Between 1989 and 1999 dairy cattle numbers in the South Island rose by 551,236 or 176.9 per cent.

Deer numbers increased 40.7 per cent between 1996 and 1999 to an estimated 1.7 million, and more than double the number in 1989. With the exception of Wellington and Nelson, all regions increased their deer numbers. Canterbury remains the most important deer farming region, stocking more than one-quarter of the national herd. The Southland region, however, demonstrated the most dramatic growth between 1996 and 1999, with deer numbers increasing 106.4 per cent or 202,741 head.

Ian Ewing


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