Sun set, sun rise

The 2010 Agriculture return showed small increases in sheep and dairy cattle numbers, deer remained stable and beef cattle numbers dropped.

Favourable weather conditions with no major lambing losses helped the national sheep flock register a small increase in 2010. The national flock had 32.6 million sheep, 180,000 more than in 2009. This increase follows drought-affected losses of 1.7 million in 2009 and 4.4 million in 2008. The increase in 2010 occurred in the South Island, which had a total of 16.5 million sheep. The North Island number was stable, at 16 million.

Favourable weather with no major lambing losses? What about the blizzards in Southland and cold, wet weather in the lower North Island?

The lambing percentage was 127 percent in the year ended 30 June 2010, after recovering from the two previous years.  This level was last recorded in 2006.

Ah – this return isn’t for the calendar year but the 12 months to June so it’s 2009’s lamb drop not last year’s.

Between 2009 and 2010 the national dairy herd increased by 50,000 to 5.9 million. In 2009, the dairy herd had increased by 280,000, and in 2008 by 320,000.

“The 2010 increase occurred in the North Island, which had close to 3.9 million dairy cattle in 2010. Unlike in recent years, the South Island number did not increase in 2010, remaining at 2.1 million,” agriculture statistics manager Hamish Hill said.

That surprises me. Dairy conversions slowed in the south when prices dropped but they didn’t stop.

Beef cattle numbered 3.9 million, down 4 percent since 2009. The number of deer was stable, at 1.1 million. The North Island is home to over 70 percent of all beef animals, while deer farming is concentrated in the lower South Island.

The area of exotic forest harvested increased by 9 percent, to 43,800 hectares, during the year ended 31 March 2010. This increase was driven by the strong international demand for New Zealand logs. Over 70 percent was harvested in the North Island – mainly in the Bay of Plenty, Waikato, and Northland regions.

I’d expect an increase in forest harvests in the current year too. Prices have gone up and farmers with mature plantations have taken the opportunity to get a return from them.

The agricultural sector, including horticulture, accounts for two-thirds of merchandise exports.

When a former Prime Minisiter (was it Lange?) referred to agriculture as a sunset industry he forgot that the sun always rises again.

Thank goodness it has – primary industry is one of few bright spots amid the economic gloom.

We’re seeing its influence in the Waitaki District which an economic profile by BERL shows did better than the country as a whole in 2010.

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