With annual exports in excess of NZ$13.7 billion, the dairy industry is New Zealand’s biggest export earner, accounting for more than 29% by value of the country’s merchandise exports. Around 95% of New Zealand’s milk is exported.
Characterised by quality and innovation, key strengths of New Zealand’s world-class dairy industry are the country’s efficient all grass farming system combined with large-scale processing, high research and development spending and creative marketing.
Dairy productivity has risen markedly over the past decade. In 1992/93, the average dairy cow in New Zealand produced approximately 259 kilograms of milksolids (kg ms) a season. In 2008/09, the average dairy cow produced 323 kg ms. This increase is the result largely of genetic gains and improved farm management, including improvements in stock nutrition.
The long-term improvement in productivity has coincided with an increase in cow numbers from 2.7 million in 1993/94 to 4.4 million (mainly Friesian) in 2008/09.
The industry, which employs 37,000 people, has been successful at diversifying both its product range and the number of markets it exports to, building an international reputation as a leading edge supplier of dairy products. These range from high quality basic products such as milk powders, butter and cheese to specialty foods such as ice-cream and highly specialised food ingredients such as spray dried milk proteins, protein hydrolysates and freeze dried biologically active proteins.
A growing trend is the development of functional foods such as low-fat, high-calcium and high-protein milk; and the development of biomedical and biohealth products, such as colostrums-based health supplements and products made from organic milk. New Zealand dairy products and ingredients are premium quality, with the industry complying with rigorous health and safety standards.