Dairy farming has been the backbone of New Zealand (NZ) for years. Recently however, the number of dairy farms has declined, according to executive chairman of Waikato Milking Systems, Jamie Mikkelson.

The main difference in farming systems between New Zealand and Ireland, Mikkelson said, is that Ireland is mainly a family-based business while farms in New Zealand are larger and more commercial.

Due to environmental constraints, the outlook for dairy farming in New Zealand for the coming years is a likely reduction of the national herd by 5%, Mikkelson explained, while the production output is expected to be higher.

He added that farmers are committed to change the way they look at farming and their production footprint, particularly in terms of fresh water and improving soils.

"There is a real willingness to move into the right direction," he said.

Emission reduction

The idea of cutting herd numbers is the result of environmental concerns and government intentions to cut emissions which, he said, will constrain the industry.

A large part of greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) in the country, he said, comes from agriculture and farmers now have to catch up with the commitments the government has made on behalf of New Zealand.

Mikkelson explained that the parliament is to further consider the water record, fresh water policy and the amount of nutrients on famers' land.

In terms of carbon footprints and emissions, which is quite a big topic in New Zealand at the moment, he said, there are three different frameworks being proposed for a carbon credit system to suit the dairy sector.

The executive chairman of Waikato Milking Systems commented that he assumes farmers will be ultimately paying, which is a concern for farmers as it is "yet another cost that they don't get any upside of".

Mikkelson said that there is a lot of discussion around methane having a shorter lifespan compared to carbon from fossil fuels.

While some farmers consider an environmental contribution completely unnecessary, some say they need to play their part and that they already take farm resources into account like trees on their property or soils that they own.

Technological trends

For farmers to produce more output with potentially fewer animals, he said, quality and genetics are of vital importance.

Despite measuring genetic output in New Zealand, an increasing number of farmers are inclined to feed more supplements particularly palm crenel, maize silage and cereals.

Also, he said, farmers are using a feed-to-yield system to help feed the herd where animals producing the most milk get the most concentrates, which, he said is a current trend in the industry in New Zealand.

There are a number of science-based technologies that target methane reduction directly in the animal including the dosing of specific supplements and minerals, according to Mikkelson.

He said that rotary technology is definitely becoming more popular with both sectors investing in rotary systems. Mikkelson explained:

"A 50 or 60-barrel rotary for milking between 300 to 400 cows would be seen as an overkill in New Zealand but in Ireland, it is seen as an investment for the future."

Farmers are also investing in the ability to milk with only one person, the one-man dairy system is definitely a trend, he added.

Besides environmental constraints, New Zealand is facing similar challenges to Ireland at the moment including higher energy costs and particularly, the cost of fertiliser which, he said, has skyrocketed.

Mikkelson added that the pandemic and the closed border in New Zealand meant that a lot of seasonal workers have been unable to come into the country, leading to a significant labour shortage which has put huge pressure on farms.