A nearly 1% decline in the breeding ewe flock in the past year is due in part to changing land use, Beef + Lamb NZ warns.
In its latest stock number survey, BLNZ said the ewe flock shrank 0.9% in the past year following a 5.2% reduction the previous year.
There are now 5 million fewer breeding ewes in New Zealand than a decade ago.
“The breeding flock is the key indicator of the future flock size. It’s trending down and is expected to continue to decline. One of the contributing factors is land-use change,” BLNZ chief insight officer Julian Ashby said.
“The amount 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.”
In the past five years more the 200,000ha has been converted from livestock farming to forestry. Ashby said this is reflected in lower sheep and cattle numbers.
The number of breeding ewes is estimated at 15.34 million, down 0.9% on 2022, but hogget numbers are up 4% at 9.36 million.
The estimated number of lambs born this spring is 20.36 million, 0.6% higher than last year, with expected lambing percentages overall up 1.5% at 126.1%.
Increases in lambs born are expected in Northland-Waikato-Bay of Plenty, Taranaki-Manawatū and Otago, with other regions being similar to or slightly
below last year.
Total sheep numbers in Marlborough-Canterbury increased 2.1%, driven by more hoggets on hand, but there was a small decline on the east coast. All other regions were steady or increased.
The total number of beef cattle is down 2.4% at 3.81 million, with the projected number of calves born expected to be 1.3% higher.
A 0.8% increase in the number of cows and heifers in the South Island offset a 3.7% drop in the North Island.
The BLNZ survey notes that farmers last year chose to reduce weaner and trading cattle numbers, which saw the number of beef cattle weaners decrease 3.2%. Southland farmers bucked the trend and replenished weaner numbers by over 20% following two years of dry conditions.
Ashby said BLNZ has for some time called for limits on the amount of forestry that can be used to offset fossil fuel emissions via the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS).
Research found that in 2021, two-thirds more farmland was sold for forestry conversion than in 2020, though that declined in 2022 following the government’s announcement of a review of the ETS.
Land is being converted into forestry quickly, with 64,000ha planted on pastoral land in 2022 and a further 88,000ha identified as intended to be planted in 2023.