Size of farming shift surprises

PETER WATSON
Last updated 23:00 23/07/2013

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A rapid move from sheep and beef farming into dairying in the Tasman District is revealed in the latest agricultural production figures released by Statistics New Zealand.

They show that sheep, beef and deer numbers each fell by more than 20 per cent in the five years to 2012, while dairy cows increased by almost 13 per cent.

Longtime Duke & Cooke rural valuer Dick Bennison said he was surprised by the size of the switch, but not by the trend, which was driven by poor sheep and beef returns compared with healthy milkfat payouts.

"The lack of profitability of sheep and beef is the fundamental reason for the substitution either directly into dairying or into dairy support grazing."

Along with those getting out completely, a lot of farmers had cut back their sheep and beef numbers to get into dairy grazing, he said. Others had sold or developed land for other uses, including lifestyle blocks.

The trend was likely to continue unless sheep and beef returns improved, Bennison said.

After a rocky few years which saw some quit the deer industry, better venison and velvet returns had seen the sector stabilise, while the amount of forestry land in production had changed little despite much of what Carter Holt Harvey owned in the Moutere having gone into grazing or lifestyle blocks.

The modest increase in pipfruit land was largely due to plantings of jazz and envy apple varieties by the likes of Enza and Wakatu Incorporation.

This had slowed over recent years because of poor returns but there were signs of a recovery, he said.

However, it was unlikely to result in a big increase in hectares, with most growers replacing older blocks with intensive plantings of higher-yielding dwarf varieties, he said.

Grapes were in a similar position after at least 40 hectares had been ripped out locally at the height of the global oversupply situation and financial crisis.

Wineries and international companies were now busy competing for grapes from growers who a few years ago were struggling to find markets.

This was pushing up prices but it would be a while before they felt confident enough to plant more.

"So things are looking a lot more positive but I don't see any wholesale planting," ennison said.

The reduction in kiwifruit land was largely due to growers getting rid of older, uneconomic hayward blocks.

Rather than planting new orchards, they were more likely to convert existing ones to new gold and green varieties by grafting, as it was cheaper and faster to do, Mr Bennison said.

Blackcurrant growers had been hit by extreme weather and low yields.

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Those with contracts to supply GlaxoSmithKline for its Ribena drink had done OK but others had struggled and that was unlikely to change quickly.

- Nelson

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