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New Zealand’s dairy industry has grown from small, humble beginnings to becoming the world’s largest exporter of dairy commodities – representing around a third of international dairy trade each year and a quarter of national exports. This is all thanks to a mix of the country’s natural resources supported by an eager attitude of ingenuity and innovation.
It all spans back to the early days of European settlement, with the first cows arriving in 1814. Dairy products were taken to local stores and traded for supplies and tools, but as production picked up, export businesses began, with the first shipment of New Zealand cheese leaving the country in 1846.
Soon enough, people began to realise that the pastoral conditions and climate of New Zealand were ideal for dairy farming, as the industry grew a farmer-owned cooperative was formed in Otago. By the 1880s, factories were opening up around the country and new developments such as refrigerated shipping and milking machines enabled dairy farmers to keep up with increasing demand.
Recognising the importance of the industry, more thought was put into research and development, with a range of scientific herd testing taking place to improve the national dairy products which were quickly gaining international recognition for their high quality. The Government soon began programmes to support the industry, and in 1923 the New Zealand Dairy Control Board is created to help promote the products overseas. The Dairy Research Institute was the first of many dairy research companies to open in order to further improve quality and production, and as a result, many innovative milking machines made in New Zealand are now a world standard.
The industry boomed, and by 2000 most of the dairy cooperatives had amalgamated to form two dairy companies which made up more than 95% of the industry: the Waikato-based New Zealand Dairy Group and the Taranaki-based Kiwi Co-operative Dairies. With the deregulation of the dairy industry in 2001, these two companies merged to form Fonterra – the largest dairy exporter in the world.
The majority of dairy herds are now located in the North Island with the greatest concentration (30%) situated in the Waikato region. The Taranaki region is the next largest with 15% of dairy herds. South Island dairy herds account for 24% of the national total, they contain 37% of all cows.
Despite its age, the New Zealand dairy industry continues to grow, with the number of cows, the volume of milk solids, and the export price all increasing year-on-year. This continued expansion has created job opportunities not only for those with dairy farming skills, but also those with scientific research and process management backgrounds.
If you have an interest in dairy industries, moving to New Zealand could put you right at the forefront.