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Implications of Agricultural Change in the Waikato Region: Current Trends and Future Scenarios

TR 2009/28


Table of contents

Report: TR 2009/28
Authors: Dr M Cameron, Dr P Barrett, B Cochrane and K McNeill (University of Waikato)


This report explores recent trends in land use and agriculture in the Waikato region, as well as how these trends are associated with economic and social changes in Waikato communities. Future scenarios to 2021 are also considered. A mixture of qualitative and quantitative data is used to support the findings, with a focus on the dairy, sheep and beef, and forestry industries.

Significant trends in the dairy industry include a recent wave of dairy conversions, changes in ownership patterns, higher stocking rates, and more intensive farming practices. These changes have been facilitated by, among other things, increases in nitrogen fertiliser, and increased use of feed-pads and supplementary feed. The key drivers of agricultural and land use change were perceived to be economic, especially the dairy payout, land values, and costs of production. The relative profitability of dairying has driven the conversion of large areas of land to dairying, as well as encouraging many sheep and beef farms to move into dairy support roles, such as the grazing of dairy heifers or cropping for maize silage. There has been significant conversion from forestry to dairying in the southern Waikato, although forestry remains significant. Environmental policy drivers were described as likely to increasingly influence farming and forestry practice, but current uncertainty is delaying investment in forestry. Farmers have become more aware of environmental management issues, in part due to community expectations. Farm management practices are changing as a result, but uncertainty about future environmental policy persists.

A number of respondents commented on the difficulties of predicting agricultural norms and noted that adaptive management will be required. Nevertheless, dairying is expected to maintain its status as the dominant form of pasture-based agriculture in the region, and there will continue to be a variety of land use across the region and within industries.

Following analysis of statistical data and interviews with key informants, two divergent scenarios were proposed for the future of agriculture in the Waikato region – intensification and de-intensification. These scenarios are not mutually exclusive, and the quantitative results highlight that the actual development path obtained by the regional economy will depend crucially on the nature of agricultural change, particularly dairying. These quantitative and qualitative results illustrate the broad patterns of change that have occurred, are currently occurring, and will continue to occur in the Waikato region. A careful consideration of these trends and future developments will be necessary in the development of regional agricultural, environmental, economic, and social policy that will affect rural areas.

Implications of Agricultural Change in the Waikato Region: Current Trends and Future Scenarios
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Table of contents

  Acknowledgement i
  Executive summary v
1 Introduction 1
2 Methods 2
2.1 Quantitative research methods 2
2.2 Qualitative research methods 2
3 Recent trends in agricultural change in the Waikato region 3
4 Developments in the agricultural sectors: dairying, sheep and beef, and forestry 13
4.1 Trends in dairying: Recent history and current situation 14
4.2 Dairying and drivers of change 18
4.2.1 Economic drivers 19
4.2.2 Growing awareness of environmental issues 22
4.2.3 Technological developments 24
4.3 Future norms: Dairying in the Waikato region 25
4.4 Trends in sheep and  beef: Recent history and current situation 30
4.5 Drivers of change in the sheep and beef sector 33
4.6 Future norms in the sheep and beef sector 35
4.7 Trends in forestry: Recent history and current situation 37
4.8 Drivers of change in forestry 39
4.9 Future norms in forestry 43
5 Agricultural and associated community change 44
6 The implications of change for the future 55
6.1 Agricultural change and social trends in the Waikato region 56
6.2 Future economic trends resulting from agricultural change in the Waikato region 58
7 Conclusions 62
  References 65
  Appendix I: Industry sector and rural community interviewees 67
  Appendix II: Interview schedules 68
  Appendix III: Additional data tables 70