New Zealand

New Zealand farmers show resilience in challenging times

The latest Beef + Lamb New Zealand (B+LNZ) Stock Number Survey shows farmers have continued to adapt quickly to challenging circumstances including droughts, processing delays and COVID-19, while afforestation remains a significant concern.

Posted on Sep 02 ,04:37

New Zealand farmers show resilience in challenging times

The report highlights the extent of farmland being converted to forestry, which continues to have a negative impact on rural communities.

B+LNZ Economic Service Chief Economist Andrew Burtt says that while the increase in farm sales into forestry has not yet led to a significant reduction in stock numbers, it can be expected very soon.

“There is usually a lag between farm sale and plantings, and planting is constrained by availability of seedlings and labour to plant them,” he says.

“After the original land has been planted, how livestock move through the system onto other farms before being sent to processing or directly to processing influences what statistics show. Much depends on the circumstances on individual farms.”

B+LNZ chief executive Sam McIvor says the extent of sheep and beef farmland being converted to forestry, along with the cumulative impact of a range of other policies on farm viability, is concerning.

“B+LNZ’s position remains that there needs to be specific limits on the amount of forestry that can be used to offset fossil fuel emissions in the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS),” he says.

“New Zealand is the only country to allow 100 percent forestry offsetting. Other countries only allow about 10 percent. Without these limits all other policy changes, while helpful, will not solve the problem.

“As more farms are sold for forestry conversion, B+LNZ continues to call on the Government to take urgent action to stop the loss of productive farmland and the decimation of rural communities.”

The report shows sheep numbers in New Zealand were steady over the last 12 months and beef cattle numbers fell only slightly, despite unfavourable conditions in some regions.

The total number of sheep in New Zealand came to 25.78 million, compared to 25.73 million last year, while beef cattle numbers decreased by 0.9 percent, to an estimated 3.93 million.

East Coast and Marlborough / Canterbury were the only regions where there was an increase. Their total sheep numbers were up 1.5 percent to 6.59 million and 5.7 percent to 5.81 million, respectively.

The East Coast also saw a total beef cattle increase of 6.5 percent to 1.02 million, while Marlborough / Canterbury’s beef cattle numbers rose by 6.2 percent to 756,000.

“East Coast had exceptionally good climatic conditions for 2021-22 and rebuilt livestock numbers following two summers of drought,” says Burtt.

“Marlborough / Canterbury’s increased numbers of breeding ewes, hoggets, total sheep, and total beef cattle in 2021-22 can be attributed to rebuilding from the previous two difficult seasons, when they experienced dry conditions and drought.”

Sheep numbers fell in other regions, with the largest decreases in Northland/ Waikato/ Bay of Plenty (4.9 percent) and Southland (3.9 percent).

“This was due to extended drought and dry conditions, making destocking necessary for farmers and good pricing for mutton meant more ewes were culled,” he says

“Waikato, South Auckland, Southland and parts of Otago faced extended drought and dry conditions and a lack of feed through summer and autumn 2022 resulted in a reduction in breeding ewes. Farmers have shown exceptional resilience and adapted quickly in response to these pressures as they have always done to challenges, they face.”

Beef cattle numbers also decreased in Northland/ Waikato/ Bay of Plenty (6.3 percent) and Southland (13.2 percent) as farmers faced significant feed deficits, while hogget numbers increased 3.2 percent to 8.84 million nationally, many of which were trading hoggets to sell from July through to October.

Burtt says delays at processing plants, which had been impacted by labour shortages and COVID-19, contributed to more hoggets being on farms in winter than normal. Also, in areas where feed was in short supply through summer and autumn, younger stock may not have reached ideal weights and held on farm for longer.

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