Dairy stats show fewer herds, greater focus on performance

The shape of New Zealand’s dairy sector continues to evolve with the latest data showing a shift to fewer dairy herds and a greater focus on their performance.

According to the New Zealand Dairy Statistics 2017-18 report, published by DairyNZ and LIC, there were 11,590 dairy herds last season – 158 fewer than the previous season.

This was the third year of decreasing herd numbers, but the average herd size did increase by 17 cows to 431. The total 2017-18 cow population was 4.99 million, an increase of 2.7% from the previous season but still below the peak population of more than 5.01 million cows in the 2014-15 season.

DairyNZ senior economist Matthew Newman said despite last year’s challenging spring weather, milk production was only slightly decreased.

“Dairy companies processed 20.7 billion litres of milk last season, containing 1.84 billion kilograms of milksolids – down 0.6% on the previous season,” said Mr Newman. “Farmers benefited from favourable late summer and autumn conditions so a number of the regions were able to milk their herd longer into the new year, which supported reasonable production for the year.”

Sharemilking arrangements were down by 44 herds from the previous season.

“Herds under sharemilking arrangements have declined from 36% in 2008-09 to 27% of herds in 2017-18. This movement from sharemilking to contract milking is driven by people wanting greater certainty of milk income that contract milking provides,” said Mr Newman.

The report also showed a surge in the uptake of herd improvement services, as farmers seek higher performing and more efficient dairy cows through the use of herd testing and artificial breeding (AB).

A total of 71.1% New Zealand herds were herd tested (8,242 herds), up from 64.3% (7,557) in 2016-17. Total cows herd tested was 3.62 million, up from 3.21 million last season and close to the record level of 3.65 million in 2014-15.

LIC general manager NZ Markets Malcolm Ellis said this reflects a shift to precision agriculture, as farmers work to optimise their systems.

“The days of significant cow growth may be over and we know that farmers are more focused on productivity and efficiency. Without doubt farmers are wanting to know more about the production status of the cows they milk, gain more confidence about their parentage and certainly invest appropriately to breed superior livestock into the future.”

While the number of cows mated to AB had a nominal increase of 1.01%, the number of yearlings mated to AB jumped up 17% on the previous season which Ellis says reflects farmers identifying every opportunity to maximise the rate of genetic gain.

Genetic gain is worth upwards of $200 million to the New Zealand dairy sector each year.

The 2017-18 season runs from 1 June 2017 to 31 May 2018.

2017-18 regional dairy statistics

NZ Dairy Statistics 2
About NZ Dairy Statistics 2017-2018

New Zealand Dairy Statistics 2017/18 is a report that shows historical information up to and including the 2017/18 season. The purpose of New Zealand Dairy Statistics is to provide statistical information related to the New Zealand dairy sector. Funding is provided by Livestock Improvement Corporation (LIC) and DairyNZ Incorporated (dairy farmer levy). Contributors include New Zealand Animal Evaluation Limited. Data is sourced from the LIC Herd Improvement Database, New Zealand dairy companies, Animal Evaluation database, TB Free New Zealand, Real Estate Institute of New Zealand, and Statistics New Zealand.

Read the full report here.