Searching for the Future on the North Island Hills

Wednesday 23 Jun 2021

(Opinion - Keith Woodford) Some weeks back I wrote an article on New Zealand’s sheep and beef farms, focusing on the current situation. I said I would be back as there was more to discuss about both the present and the future. Here, I want to focus more specifically on the North Island hill (Beef+Lamb Class 4) and hard-hill country (Class 3). These land classes comprise around 4000 farms and contain approximately 45 percent of New Zealand’s commercial sheep and beef farms.

Before heading further down that track, I want to share some information supplied by Rob Davison from Beef+Lamb. The 2017 Statistics Department national census indicates there are approximately 26,400 sheep and beef farms in New Zealand. However, Beef+Lamb estimates that only 9200, or 35 percent thereof, are commercial farms. These commercial farms typically have at least 750 stock units and comprise 97 percent of New Zealand’s sheep production plus 88 percent of the beef cattle production. That means there are another 17,200 lifestyle and hobby farmers.

Although the 17,200 non-commercial farmers may not be particularly important from a production perspective, they are still a very important part of the rural community. Many of these people have a day-job in the agricultural servicing industry.

Beef+Lamb put out a fact sheet in June 2020 looking at hill-country farming. They reckoned there were 920 Class 3 North Island hard-hill farms totalling 1.08 million effective hectares, and there were 3055 Class 4 hill farms on somewhat gentler country totalling 1.8 million effective hectares. The total area was 2.9 million ha of combined Class 3 and 4 hill country compared to 3.8 million in 1991. So where did the 900,000 ha of North Island pastoral farming disappear to?

Precise details are not clear, but the biggest contributor to that loss of hill-country pastoral land seems to have has been scrub reversion. This was land that was simply too difficult to farm. Another contributor was forestry.

(Keith Woodford, Rural Sector Commentator)

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Source: Keith Woodford

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