Nationally, beef cattle numbers rose 5 percent to about 3.9 million in 2019, as beef prices and exports increased, Stats NZ said today.

Dairy cattle numbers dipped, but overall, numbers for total cattle remained steady at 10.2 million in the year to June 2019, according to final figures from the agricultural production survey.

“The increase in beef cattle numbers was widespread in 2019 in almost every region,” agricultural production statistics manager Stuart Pitts said.

Beef cattle numbers have been rising since 2016.

The beef cattle breeding herd has risen in the last three years, with an even larger increase in one-year steers, up 14 percent in the past year.

“This coincided with sharply rising quantities of beef exports to China and the United States from late 2018,” Mr Pitts said.

In this period, for the first time China overtook the US as the primary destination for beef exports.

Beef prices also rose in recent years.

In the year to June 2019, the rise in beef cattle numbers coincided with a lift in total exports of meat, up 9 percent to $7.7 billion. In total, beef exports, both fresh and frozen meat, were worth more than $3.3 billion.

Dairy products, however, remained the top goods export for New Zealand, even though nationally, dairy cattle numbers fell slightly in 2019, down 2 percent to just below 6.3 million, mainly driven by a decline in Canterbury.

Total dairy cattle numbers remained steady in the North Island, but fell 5 percent in the South Island in 2019.

In Canterbury, total dairy cattle numbers fell by almost 120,00 head (down 9 percent) to about 1.2 million in the year to June 2019. This was partly offset by a lift in beef and sheep stock numbers in Canterbury. However, regional figures often fluctuate from year to year.

In 2019, 73,609 cattle were culled due to Mycoplasma bovis, and as of 29 April 2020, a total of 153,546 cattle have been culled since the eradication programme began.

Sheep flock dips again

Nationally, sheep flock numbers declined again slightly in 2019, down 2 percent to 26.8 million, continuing a long trend down.

The national sheep flock peaked at more than 70 million in 1982.

“In the early 1980s there were about 22 sheep for every person in New Zealand. Now it is down to about five sheep for each person,” Mr Pitts said.

In 2019, sheep numbers fell strongly in Waikato (down 7 percent), Manawatû-Whanganui (down 5 percent), and Southland (down 5 percent).

The number of total lambs dropped 4 percent, after fewer sheep mated in the previous year.

Nationally, deer numbers fell 5 percent in 2019, down to about 810,000 animals. The majority of deer are farmed in the South Island (70 percent) with the rest in the North Island.

Kiwifruit’s golden glow

Gold kiwifruit orchards are booming, with canopy area now almost matching that for green kiwifruit.

At 30 June 2019, reported gold kiwifruit canopy area increased to 7,000 hectares, compared with 7,800 hectares for green kiwifruit.

“Strong market demand prompted a steady increase in kiwifruit canopy area,” Mr Pitts said.

“This is reflected in the export volumes of gold kiwifruit more than doubling since 2015, while volumes of green kiwifruit have fallen in the past three years.”

The total value of gold kiwifruit exports in the year to June 2019 was more than $1.3 billion, well above returns from green kiwifruit, which was about $946 million.

Avocado and apple orchards increase

Nationally, there were more than 4,500 hectares of avocado orchards in 2019.

Avocado growing is mainly in Northland and the Bay of Plenty.

In the year to June 2019, avocado export volumes rose 35 percent, with values up 6 percent to $104 million.

There were about 9,800 hectares of apple orchards across New Zealand in 2019.

Most apple growing is in Hawke’s Bay followed by the Tasman region.

Apple exports rose 6 percent by volume in the year to June 2019, with export values up 10 percent to about $741 million.