Stats NZ has delayed the release of its Agricultural Production Census, saying more time is needed to gather information from farmers.
Results of the five-yearly census had been due to be unveiled on May 5.
However, Stats NZ Economic and Environment Insights general manager Jason Attewell confirmed the information will now not be released until May 22.
The census is held every five years, with an annual survey carried out in intervening years, and was to have been completed in July last year. However, that deadline was extended until December 23 “to give busy farmers and growers more time to complete the survey”.
A Beef + Lamb New Zealand (BLNZ) mid-season update in March, based on preliminary Stats NZ census figures, revealed stock numbers in some categories have dropped significantly, raising concerns that a campaign by Groundswell urging farmers to boycott the census may have had an impact. Groundswell’s gripe was with the emissions metric used by Stats NZ.
The BLNZ report showed the number of breeding ewes for the period June 2021 to June 2022 had plummeted from 16.33 million to 15.35 million (a fall of 6%) while the lamb crop had dropped from 22 million in 2021-22 to 20.2 million (8.5%) based on preliminary figures for 2022-23.
The increase in the number of farms sold to forestry was also likely to be a factor in declining stock numbers, the report said.
Attewell would not discuss the census results, saying the final stock figures and census response rate will be released on May 22.
In December, Stats NZ said 72% of expected census respondents had replied, compared with 84% in the previous census.
However, Attewell said the number of respondents who refused to take part in the census due to the Groundswell protest “isn’t significant” and does not affect the survey. Only 220 did not complete the census citing the Groundswell protest as the reason, about 0.5% of respondents.
“Stats NZ would like to thank the tens of thousands of farmers who made sure they were counted in the Agricultural Census, and who contributed to the results,” he said.
Attewell said the survey is New Zealand’s most “comprehensive, impartial and only data collection for agriculture”, and provides insights and up-to-date data about agriculture that benefits all of New Zealand.
“This information shows the importance of the agriculture sector, measures its contribution to economic growth, and provides data to enable evidence-based discussions as well as smart decision-making across the industry and the government on plans, programmes, services and investment.
Attewell said results of the census and surveys are used by farmers, industry organisations, rural communities, the government and researchers for forecasting, policy advice, planning and investment decisions, trade negotiations, national and international reporting, and natural disaster relief (such as following Cyclone Gabrielle).
Farmers are required to complete the census, but Attewell said Stats NZ prefers not to impose penalties on those who do not, instead encouraging people to be involved.
“The more who take part will help to form a clearer picture of our nation’s largest industry, and of any changes since the last survey.”