Small dairy farms (<60 ha and/or <180 cows) represent about one third of New Zealand’s dairy herds. Declining real returns for milksolids (MS) and inflation are continuing to squeeze their profitability to the extent that, without change, many are likely to exit the industry in the next decade. A mail survey of 1389 farmers was conducted to quantify their plans for the future, the constraints they faced in improving farm income and ways the dairy industry could assist them. A response rate of 41% was achieved. The majority of respondents were over 45 years (74.4%) with the average age being 51 years. Most (85%) were happy with their farm location, but 48% said they were dissatisfied with their farm size. However, few would sell to buy a bigger farm elsewhere (17.8%) or to invest in non-farming activities (24.1%) Only 24% expected their children to continue dairying on the home farm. Few believed their own ability, others’ opinions or suitable learning opportunities were limiting their ability to improve farm income. Most believed expenses could be reduced very little (mean = 3.6%). However, MS production could be increased compared to current levels to a greater extent (mean = 15.8%, range 0 to 248%). Factors restricting the improvement of farm income were: the economic and political environment (s=2) (s=median score, where 1=strongly agree and 5=strongly disagree), unfavourable actions of the dairy industry (2), lack of capital (3) and environmental limitations (3). Plans for 2009 included: retired from farming (s=3), (where 1=very unlikely and 5= very likely), on the same farm but no longer dairying (3), no or minor change (2) and have a bigger dairy farm (2). Farmers’ priorities for using a 10% higher cash surplus were: debt repayment (s=4; as for previous scale), farm development (4), off-farm investment (3) and improvements to the family home (3). While potential exists to increase production on dairy farms with small herds, the survey indicates a considerable reduction in the number of these will occur over the next decade.
Proceedings of the New Zealand Society of Animal Production, Volume 60, Hamilton, 241-246, 2000
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