Tuesday, 07 May 2019 13:33

Canterbury lamb gives way to dairy

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Canterbury has seen a 42% increase in livestock per hectare in the past 15 years as the region farms more dairy cows over sheep.

Waikato and Taranaki remain the most intensively farmed regions, Stats NZ said today.

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% 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,” says Pitts.

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,” says Pitts.

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. (See the irrigated land indicator.)

Waikato and Taranaki are the most intensively farmed regions, both had 13.7 stock units per hectare in 2018.

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