Southland's recent farming history has predominantly been in sheep, beef and deer farming, but market changes have resulted in dramatic growth in dairy farming and associated dairy processing capability. The Fonterra plant in Edendale is the largest raw milk powder plant in the world.
Southland's climate and rich soils are well suited to several types of land use. Moderate rainfall spread across all seasons means high pasture growth and little need for irrigation through the summer months. Southland also has high summer daylight hours, producing flowers that have particularly vibrant colours. The temperate climate means that animals are rarely stressed by extremes of heat or cold and there are reduced impacts of viruses, fungi and insect pests. Southland has demonstrated that it can develop and manage land use for the benefit of the environment and the economy.
The availability of affordable, highly productive land and ongoing dairy demand has been instrumental in increasing the number of dairy farms around the region. Water supply is in most cases adequate in Southland due to consistent, evenly spread rainfall. Although irrigation is rare within Southland, there is some need for irrigating in the Northern Southland area. A typical dairy farm in Southland milks herds of around 584 cows and this has grown substantially due to advances in milking shed technology and farming efficiency. Southland's relatively affordable land prices and higher returns have attracted corporate farm investment, including North Island farmers and international investors. Southland cows produce 407 kilograms of milk solids per cow compared with a national average of 371 kilograms per cow (South Island Dairying Development Centre).
Farming and meat industry practices in Southland result in some of the world's finest meat products, including lamb, beef and venison.
Sheep & Beef
Sheep and beef farming remains a substantial contributor to the Southland economy.
Total sheep numbers in Southland dropped 5.3% from 4,299,000 to 4,073,000 from 2014 to 2015 (Statistics New Zealand 2015). However, Southland/Otago continue to have high lambing rates at 130.4% compared to 131% for New Zealand.
Total beef cattle numbers have decreased over the last few years, reaching 165,000 (down 5.3% from 2014) (Statistics New Zealand 2015). Competitive land use and good prices have contributed to this reduction.
Southland took an early lead in the establishment and dramatic rise in deer farming in the 1980's. Deer and elk farming has been very successful and stock numbers are generally dictated by prevailing meat and velvet prices. Deer numbers in Southland have dropped from 223,000 in 2014 to 198,000 in 2015 (Statistics New Zealand 2015).
New Zealand is the world's third largest wool producer and produces all main wool types: fine, mid-micron and crossbred. Southland produces mainly cross-bred wools. Wool is used for a variety of end uses, particularly carpet, clothing, blankets and knitted fabric. Merino wool has become popular for clothing because of its finer texture and comfort and in many cases there is a trend towards the use of natural fibres over oil-based synthetics. Wool produced in Southland is processed into a range of products either within New Zealand or exported for manufacturing. The climate, productive soils and extensive transport infrastructure create the ideal location for the development of farming activities and agriculture.
Crops & Horticulture
Crops grown for human consumption include potatoes, carrots and parsnips. There has been some expansion into the area of brassica crops, such as cauliflower and brussels sprouts. Swede and kale grown for supplementary livestock fodder are the main winter forage crops in Southland. The climate and good soils result in Southland having higher crop yields than in other areas of New Zealand.