Dairy cow numbers are on the rise in New Zealand, up 2.7 per cent from the 2016-17 year to total 4.99 million.
That is an extra 131,590 lactating cows, according to new statistics from DairyNZ and Livestock Improvement Corporation.
Statistics for 2017-18 show the amount of milk processed remained largely static at 20.7 billion litres.
Milk solid production continued its downward trend over the past three years, easing to 1.84m kilograms from 1.85 million kg in the previous year.
Federated Farmers dairy chairman Chris Lewis said the data shows cow numbers and production have largely stabilised since it hit record highs in 2014-15, when five million cows produced 21.25 billion litres of milk.
It showed farmers were trying to optimise their systems as best as they can, he said.
“In fact, farmers on average are pulling back a little bit and looking at their own systems, looking at their farms and fine tuning things.
“It’s not about putting more cows on or having less cows it’s about optimising your system to best fit your own land, environment and labour.”
Rival industries, particularly horticulture, have been making returns that are greater than dairy despite their high entry costs, he said.
“I see dairy stabilising, but land owners are asking: what is their best return on their investment? The challenge our industry will have to face is that while we might occupy some of the best land at the moment, others want that land and the returns are looking okay.”
Overall herd numbers fell by 158 to 11,590 for the third year in a row after seven consecutive seasons of small increases. However, herds got larger with the average size on a dairy farm up by 17 cows to 431.
Lewis said it shows large farm operators are buying up their smaller neighbour to use as a runoff or to expand their current operation.
Some are also being bought for the horticulture industry, but it’s a blow for people trying to buy their first farm.
“It is not great for young people trying to share milk or young people trying to succession plan with their family.”
However, it’s hard to draw conclusions that it is leading to the demise of family farms, he said.
“In a localised area, in some areas I do see that happening, in others, not so much.”
Regional statistics were largely unchanged with 72 per cent of all herds in the North Island and 41 per cent of all dairy cows located in the South Island.
There are 2.95m cows in the North Island and 2m in the South Island. North Canterbury remained the region with the country’s largest average herd size, averaging 803 cows.
Waikato remained the country’s largest dairying region with 22.7 per cent of all cows milked on 384,529ha. Its average herd size lifted slightly from 331 cows to 342.
The latest statistics showed no effect from Mycoplasma bovis, but Lewis expected that to show up in next year’s data.