More cows, more mixed farming systems involving dairy
support and more finishing in the hill country.
That's what Rabobank senior rural manager Richard Copland
expects to see in the Gore area in the future.
Delivering the opening address at the New Zealand Grassland
Association conference in Gore last week, Mr Copland outlined
the "massive amount" of change in the district in recent
The biggest change was the increase in the balance of dairy
cattle in the region, at the expense of all other livestock.
Southland was being grazed by 7,851,000 sheep in 1994 but the
flock had shrunk 41% to 4,597,000 by 2010.
In contrast, the number of dairy cattle had increased 425% in
that period - from 114,000 to 599,000.
In recent years, land prices in the district had been as high
as $20,000 per ha for dry-stock blocks and $35,000 for dairy
For farmers wanting to grow their businesses, that presented
a "huge challenge", Mr Copland said.
He believed land had become the most limiting resource, due
to the high price, and it was essential farmers extracted as
much profit from it as possible.
Following a flood of conversions in 2007-08, the number
seemed to have settled down to about 30 per year south of
Those numbers might "drop off over the next wee while" as the
farming sector adjusted to the new Environment Southland
consenting process for dairy farms but he believed the
continuation of dairy conversions was "inevitable".
While cash was the main driver of land-use change, it was not
the only one. Mr Copland said retaining family on the farm,
or at least providing that opportunity, was still very
important to local farmers.
Every conversion tended to take another farm with it as dairy
support. While some farms had moved exclusively into dairy
grazing, in many cases farmers were using it as a
diversification option or development tool.
On the back of the dairy industry, a quite dynamic supplement
market had also been developed.
The upshot of those changes was that the sheep were literally
"heading for the hills", Mr Copland said. As management and
feeding improved, increasingly better performance was being
achieved on hill country.
One such aspect was lamb survival, with the natural cover on
hill country and lower stocking rates enhancing the number
surviving from scanning to tailing.
With increased profitability in recent years, further
refinement of over-sowing techniques and larger, higher
horsepower machinery, there was an increase in hill country
development to replace the finishing flats that were being
The continued push to increase profitability and "get more
from less" would drive further land use change in the
Farmers needed to continue to carefully consider land-use
change options and make sure they were accurately valuing the
opportunity that provided, he said.
In his Levy oration address - an innovation honouring
grassland scientist Sir Bruce Levy - Millers Flat farmer Pat
Garden was optimistic about the future for farmers.
But against the backdrop of "wonderful opportunities" for
them, there was the global debt crisis, biosecurity risks,
currency risk and climate change.
Down on the farm, the customer was "effectively sitting on
our shoulder" and compliance and regulations around
management of the environment was creating tension.
While he believed the realities of global food supply offered
some "real hope", the journey for land managers was going to
be challenging, costly and for some, very stressful.
Global debt would slow economic activity for some time but,
as producers of quality food, New Zealand farmers were in the
"box seat" and would survive a global recession much better
The industry would face increasing climate volatility, the
customer was "king" and pressure to limit or cap production
was not going to go away.
Increasing efficiency was the new target. Successful
grassland enterprises would build resilience into their
That would mean less debt, targeting efficiency rather than
maximising production and farmers' developing their own
learning networks which embraced experimentation and
measurement, Mr Garden said.