Fewer animals were farmed in New Zealand in 2022 than five years earlier, with dairy cattle numbers falling to 6.1 million, their lowest in 11 years.
This is according to the five-yearly Agricultural Production Census 2022, released by Stats NZ.
As at last June, dairy cattle numbers were back 1% from the previous year and sheep numbers were 400,000 lower, a 2% decrease.
Beef cattle numbers are steady at 3.9 million while deer fell 5% from 836,000 to 794,000.
Kiwifruit is NZ’s largest horticultural industry, covering 14,700ha, and in the past 10 years the area planted in Gold kiwifruit has increased 154% to 7800ha, while the acreage in Green kiwifruit dropped by a third between 2012 and 2022.
Stats NZ manager of economic and environment insights Jason Attewell said at 6.1 million head, the dairy cattle herd is 8% smaller than it was in 2014, when it peaked at 6.7 million.
The decline occurred in both islands but was more pronounced in the North Island where numbers fell 11% (431,000) compared to their peak in 2014.
In the South Island dairy cattle numbers fell 5% (131,000) compared with 2014.
Northland, at 22.9%, Auckland, 29%, Hawkes Bay, 23.2%, and Marlborough, 20.7% had the most significant falls in dairy cattle between 2017 and 2022.
There were small gains in Bay of Plenty, 1.3%, Wellington, 6.6%, West Coast, 6.4% and Canterbury, 2.6%.
Beef cattle peaked at 6.3 million in the 1970s but fell to an historic low of 3.5 million in 2016. Numbers stabilised at 3.9 million in both 2019 and June 2022.
There were significant gains from 2017 in Bay of Plenty, with 27.7% more beef cattle, Waikato 11.5%, Taranaki 13.3%, Wellington 11.3%, Marlborough 13.4%, Canterbury 17.3% and Otago 23.2%.
The deer population as at last June was 794,000, with the North Island herd falling 10.5% since 2017 to 219,000 and the South Island easing 2.8% to 575,000.
The national sheep flock continues to fall, reaching 25.3 million as at last June, but despite that, 22 million lambs were tailed in the 2021‒2022 year.
“The ratio of sheep to people dropped below five-to-one in 2022, for the first time since the 1850s, when national sheep numbers were first recorded,” Attewell said.
The regions with the largest decline in sheep numbers were Northland, with 31.8% fewer sheep, Tasman 27%, Southland 21% and Bay of Plenty and Auckland each recording a 20.7% fall.
The South Island dominates cereal cropping.
Of the 42,900ha of wheat grown in 2022, 41,600ha was in the South Island, an increase on 0.5%, and it grew 39,600ha of NZ’s 46,500ha of barley, an increase of 10.7%.
Canterbury grew 33.300ha of the country’s wheat and 28,600ha of its barley.
Roles are reversed in maize, with 15,800ha grown in North Island in 2022, but just 500ha in the South Island. That overall acreage fell 6.5% from 2017.
NZ grew 9810ha of apples in 2022, an increase from 8610ha in 2017, of which 7000ha is in the North Island.
The area of avocados was 5280ha, up from 3980ha in 2017, with all but 10ha grown in the North Island.
The area of wine grapes keeps growing, reaching 34,600ha last year, up from 33,980ha.
Remarkably, 23,340ha of those grapes are grown in Marlborough.
It is a similarly disproportionate story for cherries, which hit 1190ha last year, up from 730ha in 2017.
Last year 1050ha cherries were grown in Otago.
An additional 15,000ha of land was irrigated between 2017 and 2022, reaching 761,900ha. Of that 636,000ha was in the South Island with Canterbury leading at 478,000ha followed by Otago at 100,900ha.