Canterbury has seen a 42 percent increase in livestock per hectare in the past 15 years, though Waikato and Taranaki are the most intensively farmed regions, Stats NZ said.
The rise in livestock intensity reflects both an increase in stock units in the Canterbury region, and a significant fall in the amount of land used for livestock in Canterbury since 2003.
“There are more animals on less pastoral or grazing land,” agricultural production statistics manager Stuart Pitts said.
Canterbury had the equivalent of 7.8 stock units per hectare in 2018, compared with 5.5 per hectare in 2003, indicating the increase in the land’s productivity. In 2018, Canterbury had about 15.3 million stock units, up 8 percent from 14.2 million in 2003.
(A stock unit is based on the annual feed needed for a 55kg ewe rearing a single lamb. A dairy cow is the equivalent of about seven ewes, so is counted as seven stock units, compared with just one stock unit for a ewe.)
Over the same period, the amount of pastoral grassland and tussock country in Canterbury declined from 2.6 million hectares to about 2 million hectares.
“Traditionally Canterbury has been known as a sheep farming region but this livestock mix has changed. There are far fewer sheep and many more dairy cows in Canterbury than 15 years ago,” Mr Pitts said.
In 2018, there were about 4.4 million sheep in Canterbury – nearly half the 8 million sheep that were there in 2003.
In 2018, there were about 1.3 million dairy cattle in Canterbury – more than double the 560,000 dairy cattle there in 2003.
“Canterbury’s dairy cattle increase has been supported by an increase in irrigation,” Mr Pitts said.
Irrigated land in Canterbury increased to 478,000 hectares in 2017 (the last year irrigation data was collected), almost double the area that was irrigated in 2002. The Canterbury region accounted for almost two-thirds of all irrigated land in New Zealand during the year ending June 2017.
Waikato and Taranaki are the most intensively farmed regions, both had 13.7 stock units per hectare in 2018.
While Canterbury and some other regions in the South Island have seen more intensive farming of animals, the stock density in some North Island regions has fallen since 2003.
The biggest fall in stock units per hectare was in the Auckland region, down 25 percent. While the amount of pastoral land has declined, the number of stock units has declined even more.
The other notable decline was in the Hawke’s Bay region, with a 20 percent fall in stock units per hectare between 2003 and 2018. Stock units in the region fell about 2 million to 5.3 million in the period.
“These falls in stocking density may reflect improved animal performance as farmers are now able to produce more from fewer animals,” Mr Pitts said.
“For example, lambing rates have improved steadily over time, so farmers can get the same number of lambs with fewer ewes. Milk yields for dairy cows have also gone up.”
Sheep and dairy numbers declined in some regions in 2018
The dairy milking herd changed little from 2017, down 1 percent or 33,000 cattle. There are now 5 million cows that were either in milk or calf as at June 2018. The number of dairy cattle nationally was down 2.2 percent on the previous year, now about 6.4 million.
Waikato remains the region with the most dairy cattle (1.8 million, down 3 percent from 2017), followed by Canterbury (1.3 million, up 1 percent).
Nationally, beef cattle numbers were up 3 percent from 2017 at about 3.7 million.
Manawatu-Wanganui has the most beef cattle (554,000, down 2 percent), closely followed by Waikato (517,000, up 6 percent), and Canterbury (512,000, up 10 percent).
Nationally, the sheep flock remained relatively steady at about 27.3 million in 2018, down 1 percent on 2017.
The regions with the most sheep – Manawatu-Wanganui (5.1 million, unchanged from 2017) and Otago (4.9 million, up 8 percent) – helped offset a slight dip in Canterbury (4.4 million, down 1 percent).
Map of New Zealand shows the regions’ percent changes in stock density between 2003 and 2018. Auckland, Nelson, and Chatham Islands decreased more than 20%; Hawke’s Bay and Wellington decreased between 10.1% and 20%; the rest of the North Island and Tasman decreased 0.1% and 10%; Canterbury increased more than 20%, the rest of the South Island increased between 0.1% and 1%.
Map of New Zealand shows the regions’ stock densities in 2018, by regional council. Northland, Waikato, Bay of Plenty, Taranaki, Tasman and the West Coast had more than 10 stock units per hectare of pastoral land. Auckland, Gisborne, Hawke’s Bay, Manawatu-Wanganui, Wellington, Nelson, Canterbury, and Southland had between 5 and 10 stock units per hectare. Marlborough and Otago had less than 5 stock units per hectare.
Source: Stats NZ