Losses of dairy farms in Northland have been balanced by productivity increases for the majority who have milk supply agreements with Fonterra, regional manager Mike Borrie says.
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Cease-of-supply notices were lodged between December and the end of February for suppliers not intending to milk next season, 2021-22.

According to chat around the industry, 23 notices this year followed about 40 last year.

Under the Fonterra protocol, farmers who give notice might include those with farms on the market or who have sold already, pending applications from new owners to supply.

“We allow withdrawals of that cease notice right up until the start of the new season,” Borrie said.

Without confirming the numbers, he was asked for the background to cease-of-supply and the trend towards fewer dairy farms in the province.

“We have seen the numbers of supplying farms north of the harbour bridge go down by an average 25 a year over the past few years,” he said.

“Those farms that remain tend towards higher productivity and our milk collection volumes have stayed relatively static.

“The 10-year average, when normalised for the effects of droughts, has remained steady and that gives us confidence in the Northland region.”

The co-operative collects from close to 900 farms in the north, utilising two processing plants at Kauri and Maungaturoto, plus some winter milk trucked to Fonterra Brands, Takanini, in South Auckland.

According to official dairy statistics from LIC and DairyNZ, there were 793 dairy farms in Northland in 2019-20, the latest figures available.

However, those are farms within the Northland Regional Council boundary, which is the gazetted province north from the southern boundary near Wellsford.

Fonterra Northland collects from an additional 100 farms in the northern part of the Auckland Council territory, in what was the old Rodney District Council, and the south-eastern end of Kaipara District Council.

Changes of land-use away from dairying are taking a steady toll on farm and cow numbers.

LIC and DairyNZ say the 2014-15 tallies were 917 farms and 285,000 cows.

Forward six seasons and the numbers were 793 farms and 258,000 cows, a reduction of 13.5% in farms and 9.5% in cow numbers.

The losses of farms were caused by horticultural development, urban expansion and the semi-retirement of older farmers, perhaps to dairy-beef grazing.

Smaller farms may not have the profitability needed for the looming environmental upgrading.

Borrie says iwi had taken over some dairy farms from Landcorp after treaty settlements, but there hadn’t been any dairy conversions in the past few years.

He says it would be difficult now to convert from beef to dairying because of government restrictions on greater intensification of land.

Neither were farm amalgamations common in the north because of the topography and the need to keep cow walking to manageable distances.

The official stats show Northland milk production was 81 million kg milksolids in 2019-20, at an average of 102,000kg a herd. In 2014-15 production was 90m kg and 98,500kg a herd.

The average herd size in Northland is 326 cows, one of the smallest in the country, and the region has a larger proportion of owner-operators than the national average.

Borrie says these statistics can also be viewed positively, for the attributes of continued family ownership, resilience, climate change adaptability, pasture-based year-round milk production and winter milk.

While Fonterra was not looking for any increase in winter milk at present, Northland was very well placed to specialise when demand grew in the future.

Production in the first six months of all seasons was consistent but the second half was erratic due to weather issues.

The construction of water storage schemes now underway, although initially aimed at horticultural crops, may assist dairying with higher yielding fodder crops.

Northland dairy farmers had managed their fat evaluation indexes and their palm kernel usages very well over the past three years.

“I have been pleasantly surprised how they coped through droughts without resorting to the big PKE intakes of the past,” he said.

For that and many other attributes of dairy farming in the north, he expected high qualification levels for the new 10c/kg Co-operative Difference Payment.

“For those who want help meeting the requirements, my team is very keen,” he said.

“How farms manage climate change and the advent of new carbon regulations is the topic many want to discuss right now.”

Anik Dairy, owned by dairy major Lactalis Group, has named SubhashisBasu as its new chief executive officer.

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