Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy says there is a limit to further dairy intensification in New Zealand and growing exports in the future will depend more on increasing the value of products rather than the volume.
The number of dairy cattle in New Zealand has surged as farmers were lured by higher prices for dairy products while demand for sheepmeat and wool waned.
The latest agricultural statistics for 2016 show New Zealand had 6.5 million dairy cattle, up from just 2.9 million four decades ago.
Dairy products are the country’s largest commodity export worth $11.3 billion in the year through February.
However, a recent string of reports has singled out dairy intensification as one of the key factors, alongside urbanisation, putting pressure on the country’s environment, valued for its pristine natural wilderness.
“It will be challenging for the dairy industry to grow,” Mr Guy said. “There’s no way that we can double the number of cows in New Zealand. One big opportunity the dairy industry does have is about increasing the value, not the volume.”
In the past two months, New Zealand’s worsening environmental record has come under the microscope.
That’s prompted a slew of editorials and opinion pieces in the country’s major newspapers and a new freshwater policy from the government which aims to improve the ‘swimmable’ rating of lakes and rivers.
On Thursday, New Zealand published its first Fresh Water report under the Environmental Reporting Act which showed urban areas have the biggest problem with polluted freshwater, but rural areas are showing a faster-declining trend in the quality of fresh water in lakes, rivers and streams.
Mr Guy said farmers were working to improve their environmental standards, having voluntarily added about 26,000 kilometres of fencing over the past decade to exclude dairy cattle from waterways, and investing about $1 billion over the last five years to meet environmental obligations.
“We realise that agriculture does have an impact on the environment. What has been lost in the recent debate has been the focus that farmers have on their environmental performance,” Mr Guy said.
Source: NZ City