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Land Use Statistics Confirm the Changing Face of Farms

The New Zealand landscape has changed - fewer sheep, more dairy cows, more trees, burgeoning vineyards and spreading avocado orchards and olive groves, have become permanent features of New Zealand's farm landscape. Significant diversification in land-use patterns took place throughout the 1990s, as described in the final results from the 2002 Agricultural Production Census.

Land use statistics from the first census of its type since 1994, have just been released. The 2002 census was a joint undertaking by Statistics New Zealand and the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF).

The census shows that the land area used for grazing, arable, fodder and fallow land fell significantly between 1994 and 2002, as farmers and growers responded to more profitable alternative land uses.

Grazing land totalled 12.0 million hectares in 2002, down 1.5 million hectares from 1994. Over the same period, land under forestry and native bush increased, as did the number of small blocks of land.

An estimated 400,000 hectares of predominantly marginal grazing land were converted to forestry intended for timber production. According to the 2002 census, total planted production forest was estimated at 1.9 million hectares.

Between 1994 and 2002, there was a substantial trend towards splitting off small blocks of agricultural land. Small blocks were estimated to have increased from about 500,000 hectares in 1994 to more than 700,000 hectares in 2002.

It is estimated that splitting off small blocks accounts for some 600,000 hectares of the decrease in grazing land as captured by the 2002 Agricultural Census. This is because small blocks in the1994 census comprised just over 100,000 hectares.

In 2002, small blocks of land comprised about one percent of the total census hectares and MAF is arranging for a separate survey of small holdings. The results from this survey are expected to help fill the gap in our information base on small blocks of land.

Some 200,000 hectares of marginal grazing land were also converted to bush land between 1994 and 2002. The area in mature native bush and regenerating bush totalled 1.7 million hectares in 2002, up from 1.5 million hectares in 1994.

Changes in pastoral land use since 1994 were dominated by the improved profitability of dairying over other types of pastoral farming. This resulted in expanded herd sizes, more dairy farms in Canterbury, Southland and Otago, and the grazing of dairy stock on former sheep and beef areas. Dairy production contributed 23 per cent to New Zealand's export income for the year ended June 2002. It contributes significantly to regional economies.

The total area of forest intended for timber production in the North Island was estimated to have increased by 280,000 hectares since 1994 to 1.4 million hectares in 2002. Over the same time, production forest in the South Island increased by 115,000 hectares, to 529,000 hectares in 2002. Significant plantings of production forest between 1994 and 2002 were recorded in the Gisborne, Manawatu-Wanganui, Northland, Otago and Tasman regions.

The census highlighted the diversification that took place in the horticultural sector since 1994. Land used for olives was 2,600 hectares as at 30 June 2002, and the area in avocados, grown mainly in the Bay of Plenty and Northland, doubled to 3,100 hectares.

Due to profitable wine exports, the land under grapes in Nelson, Marlborough and the Hawke's Bay more than doubled in the eight years to June 2002. Over the same period, some land was taken out of apple and pear production. Overall, land in horticulture increased by 5,600 hectares to 109,400 hectares in 2002.

More information from the 2002 Agricultural Production Survey will be released in June.

This will include information on farm counts, farm types, livestock numbers and also new information on Maori businesses, irrigation, organic land and grazing of animals for rent.

This census, which will be carried out every five years, will be followed up this year with a survey of 40,000 randomly selected farmers, horticulturists and foresters. This will update farming data and continue the monitoring of the sectors which produce two-thirds of New Zealand's merchandise export earnings.

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