As the world’s eighth largest producer of milk and with over 15 billion litres of milk being produced by more than 4 million dairy cows every year, dairy farming is pretty important to New Zealand. The economic value it’s brought to the country has done great things, and it’s a huge part of the countries heritage as well.
From an economic standpoint, the dairy industry has done great things for New Zealand. Our first milk-processing factories opened in the 1880s with the first milking machine being introduced in 1893. Fast forward to 1920 and 600 factories were scattered around New Zealand. The largest dairy company in the country today is Fonterra, which is a co-op owned by 11,000 farmers. Fonterra came about due to the Dairy Industry Restructuring act of 2001, which allowed the union of what was at the time New Zealand’s two largest dairy co-ops; New Zealand Co-operative Dairy Company Ltd and Kiwi Co-operative Dairies Ltd. New Zealand typically exports around 95% of the milk it produces every year, and the dairy we export accounts for one in every three dollars earned by the country for exporting goods. This speech delivered by Graeme Wheeler has some statistics regarding how much money New Zealand has made from dairy exports in the past 30 years or so. The dairy sector of New Zealand has actually provided more than 38,000 people direct employment, and our dairy farmers are committed to improving their sustainability. To date, their efforts have included fencing over 26,000 km of waterways to exclude cattle.
Dairy is also just a big part of New Zealand’s heritage. Our abundant water, temperate climate and great soil support our pasture-based system, and the fact that we’re an island provides plenty of natural protection from diseases and pests. We produce a wide variety of dairy products, including butter, cheese, milk powders and more. Milk powders, in particular, are a large part of the products we export. Whole milk powder, butter, cheese, instant formula and skim milk powder were actually the top five dairy products we exported in 2018.
Dairy has been integral to New Zealand for almost 150 years, and it doesn’t seem like that’s going to stop anytime soon. The exposure we’ve had to global competition in world markets has meant that even though we’re a long way from our markets, the industry has continued to grow and has consolidated over time while also diversifying exports to more than 100 markets.