Keith Woodford says that the challenges of finding alternatives to dairying are under-estimated by urban New Zealand

By Keith Woodford*

Readers of my articles will know that I believe we can find solutions to the multiple problems that face our New Zealand dairy industry. However, the current conventional wisdom within New Zealand’s dominating urban constituency is that there is no path ahead for dairy and that we therefore have to find alternatives. My key message here is that finding non-dairy alternatives will not be easy.

There is a clear logic as to why New Zealand has focused so much on dairy. Quite simply, it is the most efficient of the pastoral industries at turning grass into animal protein.  Economic factors have led inexorably to industry expansion, and for many it has paid off big-time. This is despite the dairy downturn from 2014 through until recently.

The first myth to dispel is that it is realistic for large scale conversion of dairy farms to horticulture or other plant-based production. It will not and cannot happen.

To start with, most of our dairy farming takes place in high rainfall environments which are poorly suited to horticulture. It is not by chance that New Zealand horticulture, to the extent it has flourished, is mainly on the east coasts of both North and South Islands. Places such as the Waikato, Taranaki and Southland are highly unlikely to ever become big horticulture regions.

The big regions that could meet the climate and soil-type requirements for increased horticulture are Hawke's Bay, Wairarapa and Canterbury. The only reason I exclude Marlborough from that list is that it is already dominated by horticulture and it would be very hard to find any dairy cows there.

Even in those regions where there is horticultural potential, no modern horticultural industry can prosper without the reliability that comes from access to irrigation. Also, in Canterbury in particular, most of the soils are too stony to support horticulture. On the better Canterbury soils, there are some opportunities for shifting from the current annual crops to perennial crops, but in terms of large scale shifting of dairy land to horticulture, it is not going to happen. As for Wairarapa and Hawke's Bay, dairying is currently not a major land-use to shift from. The problems lie elsewhere.

Accordingly, if dairy land is to shift to non-dairy farming, then in the vast majority of cases it will have to be to other pastoral activities. That means sheep and beef, with perhaps deer in some limited situations. Unfortunately, in most farm situations this shift away from dairy does not make any economic sense.

The starting point for any economic analysis of pastoral alternatives is to get a realistic set of physical data, and also to recognise that we are talking about alternative ways of turning grass into animal protein. Of course, dairy also produces valuable fat in the form of butter, whereas carcass fat is of minimal value.

With dairy, a self- contained farm (including all support animals) might produce 1000 kg of milksolids. (This term ‘milksolids’ is confusing to non-dairy people; it is actually just the protein plus fat, which make up about 55% of the total solids within milk. The rest is lactose and minerals.) In some parts of the country, achieving 1000 kg milksolids would be challenging, and in situations as in Canterbury, where support livestock are almost always farmed off the milking platform, then it would be highly conservative. But as a generalised starting point, it is a realistic place to begin. From that 1000 kg of milksolids, there would be about 450 kg of protein.

On the same class of land, a sheep farm would struggle to produce more than 400 kg of carcass, and in fact most farms would produce much less. From that 400 kg of carcass, by the time allowance is made for bone and fat, and then allowing for the lean meat to be about 75% water, then the actual protein delivered to the market is about 60 kg. So, sheep farming is only going to produce about 15% of the protein that comes from milk. If we factor in the meat carcasses from dairy cows, and allow that milkfat is worth much more than sheep fat, then the relative comparison of sheep with dairy drops even lower.

An alternative way of looking at things is to recognise that a kg of sheep carcass is typically worth no more than, and usually less than, a kg of milksolids. Even with them valued at the same price, then the gross income per hectare from sheep is unlikely to be more than one third that of dairy. And these calculations, if biased in any direction, are biased in favour of sheep. I could redo the calculations to make sheep look worse, but I cannot realistically make the sheep option look better. 

Once costs are taken into account, then sheep do move up, but not enough to change the big picture. That is why sheep farmers moved out of sheep in the past.

With beef farming, the story is broadly similar. That beef story only changes if the animals come as a by-product of the dairy industry.

There are indeed exciting options for better use of bobby calves from the dairy industry, but it won’t happen until the wrinkles are sorted out in the use of sex-selected semen. The technology works well overseas with non-seasonal dairy systems, but it remains problematic within New Zealand seasonal-based dairying to get the conception rates that are required to make that seasonal-dairy system work.

There would also be key questions as to where we would market additional meat from pastoral farming. For beef, there are always options but at a price. With sheep, the options are more limited. There is also another hard reality that processing live sheep through to consumer products is more expensive per kg than for beef. 

All of the calculations I have produced here assume that the sheep and beef will be produced at similar pastoral intensity as dairy. This means they will be producing similar amounts of piss and poo as the dairy cows. So, there is still going to be plenty of nitrates going into the soil and water, and similar amounts of greenhouse gases produced by ruminant metabolism as occurs with dairy.   If the sheep and beef are to be produced at lower intensity, then the emissions will indeed drop, but so will the meat production figures I have used.

I often hear wistful calls that we should indeed go back to the past. How come that we used to do okay as a country with sheep as the backbone of prosperity? Yes, but those were the days when wool was worth more than lamb and provided the backbone of prosperity. They were also the days when agricultural exports only had to counter-balance the import requirements of less than three million New Zealanders.

Up to this point, I have made no mention of forestry. Given the pickle we have got ourselves into as a nation with greenhouse gas commitments, I see no alternative to planting of more forests. However, in most cases, this is not going to be on dairy country, and in any case, it only produces carbon credits for the first timber cycle.

In Canterbury, we do have a history of trying to grow pine trees on the plains. The foresters learned the hard ways that periodic super-strong northwest wind storms have a habit of devastating the forests. As for the dairy pastures of Taranaki, Waikato or Southland, I give no credence to any notion that they will become pine monocultures.

So, there we are!  There are no easy alternatives to dairy. We therefore need to get our act together and work out how we can make dairy work. That will mean using our New Zealand comparative advantage in pastoral activities, but getting cows off the paddock in late autumn and winter, as others do elsewhere across the world. Elsewhere in the world, it is largely for shelter, but In New Zealand it will be to stop the nitrogen leaching. If New Zealand dairying wants a long-term social licence to operate, there is no option.

*Keith Woodford is an independent consultant who holds honorary positions as Professor of Agri-Food Systems at Lincoln University and Senior Research Fellow at the Contemporary China Research Centre at Victoria University.  His articles are archived at

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I think there is a huge misunderstanding by urban NZ that Dairy is done and dusted. If you do a little bit of research NZ is still one of the lowest cost producers of Steroid, Hormone, GE and antibiotic free milk in the world. With demand set to keep increasing (and Europe obviously not able to compete despite their tariffs on imports and subsidies available) only protectionism is standing in the way of our Dairy Sector expanding. NZ does need to sort its environmental footprint it is leaving. However farmers are in the process of upgrading their systems to reduce their leaching and improving animal welfare. I would hate to see NZ move away from dairy just to appease a few groups who are trying to sabotage the industry.

"With demand set to keep increasing.."

The problem looking forward isnt demand - there is insatiable demand for protein - the problem is affordability of the protein for the people assumed to be driving this new "demand". This is going in the opposite direction.

What makes you think affordability is going backwards?

Energy /resource problems.
The upshot is ever lower interest rates and an inability of massive debt stimulus to lift commodity prices.

I am pretty sure I am right in claiming world poverty levels have steadily fallen since 1981 and the third world is materially richer since that time. They have never been in a better position to pay for protein.

Ralph, affordability is related to resource consumption and hurts everyone, not just the direct consumer of the product. The environmental foot print of dairying is a cost too and impacts every one. If we buy into a continual growth model, strangling evermore from a finite block of land, the end result can only be poisoning the environment. And no matter how much is paid, that money generally only goes to the producer, not everyone who is impacted by the effects on the environment. Is that a cost you're willing to bear? Even now farmers do not pay the cost of their impact on the environment, but are protected from it. This needs to change.

I get your point Murray, but I also expect that our techniques will continue to improve and the environmental impact *will* reduce.

And I do buy into a growth model because I want our children's children to have great jobs and a better material quality of life than we had. I am not one to give up just because it is hard. If our forefathers had done that the industrial revolution would have been cancelled and we would all be using horses to get around and moaning about how the local council should clean up the horse poo everywhere.

I also do not buy into the "peak everything" theories because it is a fact that we live in the greatest age of material plenty in the history of the world. Ever.

Even if we don't figure out how to use energy more efficiently (but we will) and don't find more sources of affordable energy (but we will) -- there is so much spare energy in its currently used forms that coal companies struggle to make money, oil reserves are growing (peak oil didn't happen in the 1970's) and solar investment is going to the moon.

Ralph - Im sure youre right - poverty levels would have fallen since 81. But lookng at the last 40 years and extrapolating forward is full of potholes ...
Eg Since 81 there has also been
- huge buildup of debt (requiring ever lower interest rates)
- huge population increase (but resources are fixed more or less)
- widespread depletion of resources everywhere
- big increase in the complexity of the whole system & interdependency of all countries (and energy required to maintain it..)
- and the kicker is we have burnt huge amounts of the "easy" Oil & coal ... which arent coming back

So it may look as if we're "richer", but its all about (energy) resources per capita to keep it ticking

I don't see wide spread resource depletion everywhere. Commodity markets are currently depressed through lack of demand, too many resources.

The unspoken assumption to all these energy theories are that "if all other things remain equal". But history shows over and over again that things (assumptive variables) do not remain equal.

As you say, looking forward is very hard.

"Commodity markets are currently depressed through lack of demand, too many resources.."

Totally agree - so it appears as a Glut (so it easy to think abundance) ... the workers in the system cant afford the output of the system ....

Milk products would be much more affordable for the middle & lower class if Tariffs weren't in place however if NZ was allowed to put Tariff free quota free milk into any one country it would destroy their domestic producers.

In the UK Morrisons sell whole milk for £1 for 2.4 liters. 40p a pint.

I agree Morrison' first stop in UK. Lovely donuts as well 5 for 50 P. Melt in ones mouth...

Well worth the weight...and the trip.

Milk is so you say... AndrewJ. But that is not all....most of their food VAT...GST to us...

Decent cheese, decent food at decent prices. All washed down with decent beer and wine at decent prices...

And France is even better.....

Escaping the Winter in 2 weeks time, so I can take advantage of the milk, cheese and wine products of Europe. well.

All these items are so cheap, I shall have to exercise a lot and get on my bike and not sit around blathering on about NZ bull-shite and debt.

Talking of debt...

It is not just Farmers who need a crust.....a top up, in this Topsy Tipsy Turvey World.

We should not take a leaf out of another's Book.....They have blotted their again.

You are being very kind to we urbanites to even consider the issues.
But if we remember back, Southland 2 generations ago realised the soils didnt suit dairying because, I was told, of over winter pugging.
Canterbury grew crops until the Aussies cleaned out our millers, the Waimea plains grew oats.
Oh, and by the way, the Oreti plains have good horticultural soils and produce great spuds and carrots.
I think the issue is the simple corporate greed evidenced by 1000 cow herds and the ensuing enviromental damage.
But yes, economies of scale are a wonderful thing, like the auckland motorways.
But Im a townie.

Awkward things, facts. Excellent article, based on real data. Hard to argue with.

What KW has if anything understated, is the numbers and vehemence of the urban bovinophobes.

Urban types see wholesale changes of use everywhere, constantly: as Ms Market decides that Mom-andPop stores are Out and big-box Retail is In, then the landscape transmogrifies. Or as those draughty old villas succumb to the borer finally stopping holding hands and tilt-slab arises in their place. Or as retirement villages spring up in the place of former industrial sites now outsourced to faraway, cheap-labour locations.

So it is quite easy for urbanistas to imagine that a similar churn can be induced on all a them Farms. And there are many more urbanistas than farmers: the dairy farm count last time I looked was a little over 12,000. That's the voting population of a single Awkland meshblock.....

So that notion of the 'social licence' is, shall we say, a tad Lop-sided....

You forgot one important point: NZ "Urbanistas" aren't even the main consumer of NZ dairy products so it does not matter if you want to put yourself through the whole almond juice rigmarole. NZ consumers will have very little effect on dairy outputs here. The NZ population however can through the government affect the NZ dairy sector.

Oh Keith .... Keith Keith Keith .... Keithily Keith .... dude , putcha lateral thinking cap on old chum ... there's a zillion and one alternatives to dairy farming on NZ pastoral land ...

... ferret farming .... organic free-range walnuts ... cage-less blackcurrants ... ... milking ducks .... retirement villages for cud chewing confused elderly politicians ... dryland fish farming ...

It isn't for the want of ideas Keith ... it's the need of sterling hearted farmers to have the intestinal fortitude to give all commonsense a wide berth , and to get stuck in ... as our herd of dairy farmers are currently doing ...

Hmmm .... 12.30 huh ... time to round up the flock of recently crutched giant eels .... where's me darned dogfish got to ... HERE BOY !

Ive got a great idea, has anyone thought of milking sheep?

NZ already are milking sheep.

Oh bother, I thought they may be more environmentally friendly because they have little feet

.. little feet ? .... milking penguins ! ... or was that " happy feet " ...

I do get confused easily.
Some of that hemp seed may be good for the elderly according to the Guardian today.

It's too late to fleece the elderly , Ryman are currently milking them for all they can get ..

Actually, legalising marijuana (canada are doing it next year) could be a great cropping alternative to cows.

It always comes down to the debt.

Does it boil back to debt Gummy? Pay too much for the land and you're tied to a strict production target (kgms or SU/ha) to service debt.

Dairy farmers I know are in a lot of debt, they've either bought the neighbours, the Whangamata bach (house) or the over priced run off. These are all guys in their 50's, the next generation coming through might have ideas of alternative land uses but with the old boy still calling the shots, it'll be another 15 years before they get to implement any idea's, by which stage they're buying out their siblings and the debt cycle continues.

The above answers are right - its about DEBT loading.
The financial system mandates that we grow ... to service increasing DEBT .... which means we MUST continually leverage natural resources at a more intensive rate (basically science/tech "advances" cant keep up with debt burden..).
So the system dictates to farmers to increase intensification slowly but surely. The irony is that the townies just dont realise they free wheel off this leverage of resources.

Farm debt is more to the advantage of the financial sector, the townies find there is less money spent in the shops possibly.
If the farm is more labour intensive it helps of course.
But im not sure what "free wheel" means.

Debt in general elevates commodity prices (so aggregate debt also helps farmers) - but eventually if we get to a point where debt servicing is all everyone can do the system fails.

Re free wheeling, what im getting at is we all ride off the back of burning fossil fuels to maximise the leverage & output of our resources - hence 1 farmer can now feed 1000's of townies etc. We kid ourselves that our jobs are meaningful, but in fact 95% of them are designed to give us a lifestyle like equivalent to Kings of old ... and it all comes back to treading hard on the environment & resources (or keeping the fossil fuel burn going at a increasing rate)

Got that and yes.
The resource that now limits the promise of global prosperity, in my opinion, is the resource called the environment and I believe that the conflict will be resolved along the lines of the rich get rich and the poor get poorer.
The rich will have money to burn and endless resources...the poor will always be with us.
Do I support

... a much simpler way than Gareth Morgan's capital tax proposal , to bring some of the capital value of the unimproved value of the nation's natural resources back into the pocket of the state ...

Fred may be wanting to review that book in the brave new world.
Owning land may be a source of wealth or the source of a stretch in jail, depending on how you activities affect others.
The value of the land at the end of your activities may bankrupt you.
Question one is has it always been like this?
If no then we may need a new measure for wealth such as activity, demphasising land ownership.
That covers stories such as Google, or Uber...

Ham n eggs is on to it: the monetisation and financialisation of everything is now almost complete, not least for our farmers and their workers. The lions share of farm surplus goes to the banks, not the farmers, or workers or environmental best practice.
Farm debt has increased dramatically as the farms price has risen in response to its potential for capital gains and productivity gains. Even with our current low interest rates the average dairy farm needs to find about $200,000 per year in interest costs. An extra 10 or $20k for the farm worker shouldn’t be too much of a problem you would think. The farmer, farm worker, the land, the stock (literally) are being squeezed to pay the bank interest. Interest costs directly caused by the need to pay the higher capital cost of the farm. Any profitability gain is magnified twenty times into inflating the farm value, farms that are now among the highest priced in the world.
The benefit of any productivity does not flow to the worker; quite the opposite in practice. The farmers say “we can’t find worker”s and “our” government responds with a loose, fraud riven worker immigration policy targeted at third world countries with the effect of lowering pay even further. The neo lib free-marketeers in government are quite prepared to throw the people under a bus to preserve the status quo: interests of the big foreign owned banks.
Our young guys that were keen on farming would often start with basic farm work, milking etc. The plan being to save up and buy a herd so you could become a share milker. These farm workers today need to save up to buy their next pair of Redbands , there is no possibility of progressing to farm ownership and the whole rural sector is facing a social and economic upheaval. Farms pay more to the banks than the farmer and the worker both make in income, the money leaves the area (and the country to a large extent) and the district and its people are further impoverished.
Curiously the farmers can afford to pay extremely high wages, just not to the workers out in all weathers at all hours with a high risk of disease and injury, The Fonterra head office is a magnificent edifice with a highly paid staff in great comfort. Fonterra have a total of four thousand staff there and elsewhere on over $100,000 a year and some on over a million. No one is quite sure what they do or achieve but I bet she’s a pretty sweet number. An urban technocratic elite and the banking system have garnered all the surplus from the productive side of the economy (30%) and I think that is a very worrying trend as far as our long term future is concerned.
This whole dynamic is visible right through the economy Debt is high but has to keep rising; the economy needs to be continually juiced with rising credit/debtor or it will collapse. Private sector debt is approaching double the size of our economy and rising at double the rate of growth in the economy. We now have one eighth of our annual turnover (or GDP) a year (that’s $30,000,000,000) flowing into our economy from private sector debt expansion. Sustainable, not but take that away and it’s pretty much game over.

Would have been interested in seeing a comparison of selling the water as 'bottled' compared with turning it into milk and associated run off mess? If we were to price eco damage to dairying and charge market price on water extraction, I wonder how clever dairying would look in some parts?

Its the volumes, if you need to put on 600ml of water pa, its an enormous quantity. Every ml is 10 M3. With the size of some of the irrigation schemes you are talking serious volumes.

... somewhere I read that in the USA the average going rate for water is $US 2.50 per cubic meter ...

Imagine the effect of that here ...

... water would finally get the respect it deserves if we all had to pay more for it ... and as a national resource , the government could place that money into it's coffers , to off-set it against some of the onerous tax burden on workers and businesses ...

In the HB irrigation scheme the water is about .30c a M3. So around $3.00 a ml per hectare, it's 13k for centre pivot a hectare, .8c a M3 for pumping and so on, you can see how these schemes run out of control.
It's a dangerous thing to sign up to for 35 years inflation indexed.


.. if anyone doubts the seriousness of this suggestion , head over to Wikipedia and look up hemp ...

It truly deserves the moniker super plant , for it's multitude of uses ... as an animal food , fabrics , building materials ... the list is oh so long ...

.. and the seeds are sensationally healthy , an amazing cornucopia of good fats , proteins and trace elements ...

I believe the man who coined the phrase, "Eat my shorts" must have had hemp in mind.

It pays to remember we have 60 billion of farm debt, average dairy debt is 10k a cow but a 3rd of dairy farmers have no debt, a third have manageable debt, a third have huge debt loading.

Compared to Aussie whos ag debt is 70 billion while exporting 5x what we do, with a much bigger local market and they think they have a problem.

Australia has 27 million cattle, number 7 in the world we have about 9 mil. They export over 16 million tonnes of wheat they are massive compared to us with similar debt loading.

... I'm guessing that because their dairy industry is more fragmented than ours , it didn't go to the wild excesses of cow numbers and milk production that ours did , fueled by the dominance of Fonterrible , and aided by the government ...

We're all goody good just so long as interest rates don't rise appreciably .... and so long as the Chinese don't cotton onto the fact that they're lactose intolerant , and lack the fresh water needed to re-constitute the milk powder we're sending them by the ship load ...

... no problem then .... ahem !

AJ it is pointless comparing NZ to AUS and also pointing out our level of debt. That all means nothing and is comparing apples to oranges to tomatoes.

The return on assets NZ farms are getting compared to AUS & the rest of the world is a driver for the price of land here in NZ. Because of our ability to produce milk from a pastoral system (Plus the Dairy Sector Efficiencies) the average NZ land has better returns than the average AUS land. I thought you of all people would understand this..... This is why when AUS farmers got paid $5.00 per kg MS they were screaming bloody murder whereas our farmers received $3.90.

I would have thought Aussie returns were better, mainly because they have soo much land. I talked to my bank and they told me most of the Australian farm loans are on ten year mortgages.

"Measured on a land price per unit of production basis, at an average of US$950 per tonne of wheat produced annually, Australian land prices are less than half those of the United States (US$2,400 / tonne annual wheat), New Zealand (US$2,500 / tonne annual wheat), the United Kingdom (US$2,575 / tonne annual wheat) and even Brazil (US$2,400 / tonne annual wheat).

Some food for thought. Recently I have had cause to take a good look at the Taupo Lake Catchment scheme. Where the nitrogen is limited. When I say nitrogen, I refer mainly to what animals urinate. Kinloch is turning into more of a park. With farming limited, trees are everywhere, farms are restricted. The lake looks like it will stay clear and clean. The place looks a million dollars. Its an interesting concept they have adopted.

The Waikato district is currently facing its moment of truth with the Waikato Healthy Rivers scheme.

Whats the impact Belle?

Sale n purchase agreements falling over. When due diligence is applied, purchasers cant determine what the farms will be able to do nutrientwise. Its based on the 14/15 and 15/16 years. Which were pretty bad for dairy, so at a guess these years were low fert use. Cant remember offhand but i think you have to take 15% off that for N use. Cropping on hillier country will be more difficult to do and the sheep n beef guys are being dragged into fencing off waterways. Water retic will be a nightmare. Taking a sledgehammer to the jobbie in some ways. But phosphate is ignored. We would all be rooted if they attacked the use of P.

They must at some point...

"An estimated 8.3 tonnes of the heavy metal cadmium is currently applied to Waikato soils each year, with the largest single source being superphosphate fertiliser".


"The New Zealand fertiliser industry has also reported that preventing further accumulation in New Zealand soils would require an 80% reduction in the cadmium content of superphosphate fertiliser, to approximately 24 mg Cd/kg P2O5"


"This is especially true in intensively farmed areas like the Waikato where now more than 160,000 hectares are contaminated to the point that would have been officially labelled as a contaminated site"

..but hey, Mike Joys an extremist huh...lets attack the personality because we can't attack the science.

it's a monster.

Hey Mike Joy is my hero. Its rather conflicting...he would happily steal my lifestyle. But someone needed to do what he has done. I will read your links about cadmium. I understand its a problem, but had thought the industry was sourcing product with less in it. Cant win. I use rpr when I can get it but that has a medium amount of cadmium. Yet the P is less liable to leach into waterways.

Belle, the bastards are using averages. So a good farmer with low inputs is penalised while a high input farmer gets to cut but still has plenty of wiggle room just a bit less N and PKE. Many good farmers will get pushed to the wall while the heavy polluters get to continue although at a slightly lower limit.

On Crafar farms they were using up to 400kgs of N a year per hectare. In the Mohaka catchment there were 9000 cows and the farms were applying an average 360 kgs of N a year.

My understanding is everyone has to measure their nitrogen losses using overseer to establish baseline, and you have the choice of using one of the last 2 years. That's not just applied N but is also nitrogen lost from stock and is affected by stocking rates, winter crops, bought in feed etc.

Then those in the top 25% of N loss (which would be mostly intensive dairy and market gardening) have to reduce levels to the 75th percentile level - I'm not sure of the time frame. No-one else is allowed to increase their baseline level without resource consent.

yes, so the intensive farmers can still be big polluters, while the efficient low input farmers have no where to go.

Yes that grandfathering aspect is causing lots of dispute. Especially for the market gardeners who have been driven out of Pukekohe by urban sprawl, and are not likely to be able to get consent to garden further South on new land.

Doris isn't it ironic that Nz will have to import vegetables ,a growing population and a capping of food production . The Chinese vegetables growers are going to love that .

interesting flood the country with people and turn from a net exporter of produce to a net importer of produce.
and guess who the winners ( multi national corporations ) and the losers ( family owned ) are

Speaking of which ie the Taharua farms....someone I know very well spotted a large bunch of dairy heifers in the Taharua river a short while ago. Shitting up a storm. Bet the brownies were pissy. So Landcorp are running it. The chinese own it. Such a responsible pair.

To start with, most of our dairy farming takes place in high rainfall environments which are poorly suited to horticulture. It is not by chance that New Zealand horticulture, to the extent it has flourished, is mainly on the east coasts of both North and South Islands. Places such as the Waikato, Taranaki and Southland are highly unlikely to ever become big horticulture regions.

Blueberry Country is New Zealand’s Largest Blueberry Orchard with 400 acres (160 hectares) currently in production.

Blueberry Country is a family business that is based in Ohaupo in the beautiful and fertile Waikato. We have established Orchards in Ohaupo and Ngatea, and have an orchard that is under development in Otautau (Southland).

A mature block can produce in excess of 10,000 kgs per Ha

Comparing 160ha gross income

Dairy Farm, 500cows @ 400kgms = 200,000kgms @ $6payout = $1.2mil / 160ha = $7,500 gross/ha
Blueberries - assuming mid maturity plants making 5,000kg/ha which retail at @ $52kg, the grower would be getting maybe $15kg as it leaves the gate (allowing wastage, lower value products ie: frozen), $15kg x 5,000kg = $75,000 gross/ha

I don't know cost structures of Horticulture and this example is only the size of one average Waikato farm but there are options out there.

Hmmmm ... yessss .... not sure why Keith reckons dairy farming takes place mostly on high rainfall environments , unsuitable for horrorculture ...

... that may have been traditional ... but now on the dry dusty Cantabrian plains , the trees have been stripped away , the monster irrigators linked pivot to pivot prowl across the land ... and massed herds of cows seek a shelter which is not there from the sub-antarctically sou-west gales roaring mercilously up from the bowels of the great southern ocean ...

Holy shit, Dennis Glover lives!

"The farm’s still there. Mortgage corporations
Couldn’t give it away.
And Quardle oodle ardle wardle doodle
The magpies say."

ercifully sou west gales are few and far between in Canterbury,but the beasterly turns mothers milk fridgid.The top operators match grass and beast to produce a kilo of milk solids from a kilo of mothers bodyweight.
Converting 20 tonne of self harvested fresh grass to milk solids and shipping all that nitrogen to China. Can't do that in many other dairy areas in NZ.
Traditional native plantings are going in all over Canterbury.
Dairy is here to stay in Canterbury and barns are not the answer.

Canon's reply is an almost perfect example of the urban tendency to assume that switching uses and configurations is easy peasy.

Blueberries, the chosen example, is a niche product: low volume/high value. The total market can be judged by the extent of the Blueberry Section in your local supermarket. It ain't extensive.

But the extent of dairy - let's assume 12K farms - is such that all cannot switch quickly or easily to almost any other alternative that will service the costs, without crashing the market they switch to. To be sure, a few tens or hundreds probably could, over, say, a decade. But - a thought experiment - the safest kind - all 12,000 dairy farms selling their coos, planting the berries as Canon so blithely suggests, and imagine the results:

  • Beef market, plus dog food etc markets collapse. Fixed demand, over supply.
  • Income Gap between End of Dairy and Start of Berry $. Mind the gap - it could be a season or three.
  • Berry market collapses - over-supply cf demand.

Thank goodness we have data-driven common taters like KW......

Lots of options,pity govt funding pulled from potential options on several occasions, a very short sited view.Certain parts southland,lease land of 1000 dollars acre paid,for crops for export ,vegetables, outperforming what flower growers paying,and we'll above what dairy paying,certain apple orchards at Temuka area I suspect are out performing dairy,and the lot horticulture crops can be grown on light stony country,many having cycles of profitability,dairy only boomed,last40 years,lot of dairy factories abandoned from 1940s area with that cycle,and apples grown many parts country if look at old maps in a,lot prime dairy area today,one notes govt closing research places at invermay on avocados and other cold adapted crops for Southern area,bean counters destroying future potential options,also central otago site,now Sam Neil's, new crops,prunes,hawthorn plus many others,, bean counter said site not showing profit must be sold as weren't showing a profit,goodness nows what industries lost,grapes,cherries all started with few growers,heard one individual going to set up pine nuts farms in nz,got figs,nuts all sorts of stuff a bit govt backing in early years may have helped,like millions spent by govt in meat research money obtained of govt,by silver fern etc,or money thrown at dairy research projects on established industries,wondering what sort of funding for new crops in southland get in comparison,plenty potential alternatives,for thinking man,only inhibited by your open mindedness.cheers