Report highlights dairy’s economic contribution

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A new report by Sense Partners highlights the dairy sector’s contribution to the New Zealand economy, and its role as ‘shock absorber’ for regional communities in times of volatility.

The report, commissioned by DairyNZ and the Dairy Companies Association of New Zealand (DCANZ), also shows the importance of ongoing investment in trade liberalisation and resilient infrastructure.

DCANZ executive director Kimberly Crewther says the report shows the long-term picture for the dairy sector is solid and it will continue to contribute significantly to the New Zealand economy.

“Dairy generated nearly $26 billion in export revenue for the year to April 2023, which accounts for around one in every four export dollars earnt by New Zealand,” says Ms Crewther.

“The value of dairy exports grew by 45% over the past five years, which helped support the national economy through the pandemic.”

DairyNZ head of economics Mark Storey says the spread of farms across the country allows dairy to support regional economies, maintaining some local spending even when milk prices drop.

“Dairy’s export earnings translate into well-paying jobs in the sector and enable the purchase of goods and services from other sectors,” explains Mr Storey.

“There will inevitably be an impact from the recent fall in milk price, with farmers limiting non-essential expenditure and limiting their purchases short-term where possible. However, this analysis shows that the sector itself absorbs some of the impacts in dairy farmers’ profits.

“Despite lower milk prices, dairy farmers will continue to hire staff and purchase essential supplies to run their farms.”

In the year to March 2023, dairy processors spent around $19.6 billion of goods and services from both farms (milk) and other industries. Dairy farmers in turn spent $7.9 billion on goods and services in the same period.

“Around 55,000 people are employed in dairy, both on and off farms, generating around $3.6 billion annually in wages,” says Mr Storey. “At a community level, dairy is a significant employer. For instance, in Waimate, one in three jobs are in the dairy sector and wages make up 52% of total wages paid there.

“Dairy also employs more than 20% of workers in both South Taranaki and Westland districts and pays over 40% of the district’s total wages.”

Dairy accounts for more than 1 in 10 jobs in a further eight districts, while paying more than comparable sectors, which amplifies the value of dairy employment to communities.

Dairy processing and farming remain New Zealand’s most internationally connected industries.   Individual dairy products including whole milk powder, skim milk powder, butter and dairy spreads, protein products and cheese are all multi-billion-dollar exports.

“The analysis highlights that New Zealand dairy exporters continue to change their market offerings in response to demand, with the proportion of whole milk powder reducing from 36.9% in 2019 to 31.6% in the year to April 2023, while dairy protein products having increased to 13.2% of the product mix, up from 8.6% in 2019,” says Ms Crewther.

Ms Crewther explains that the industry continues to face significant trade barriers and costs.  Reducing them will support exporters to continue growing the export value of New Zealand dairy products.

“Sense Partners estimate that New Zealand dairy exports continue to incur more than $1.5 billion of tariffs and $7.8 billion of non-tariff measures costs. 86.7% of global dairy consumption continues to sit behind trade tariffs of 10% or more,” says Ms Crewther.

“This underscores the importance of New Zealand continuing to invest in efforts to remove trade barriers, including those that remain for dairy in some free trade agreement partner markets. Fewer trade barriers would mean a greater diversity of export opportunities for New Zealand dairy companies and greater ability to navigate market volatility.”

The report also found that dairy’s ability to provide a resilient contribution to New Zealand economy would be enhanced by infrastructure resilience. Exporting success requires efficient and reliable movement of milk and products from farms to factory, and to ports.

The report has examined the short-term freight cost impact of disruption on several vital roads, prone to disruption. For example, a closure of state highway one at Moreraki is estimated to result in a daily cost of $809,900.

Rail reliability is also a resilience priority, with rail access to the port of Tauranga, which handles 53% of dairy exports, currently reliant on a single rail line.

“As a sector we encourage investments that will support our sector to continue delivering for New Zealand over the long-term. There is significant economic benefit associated with alleviating the costs arising from infrastructure vulnerability and trade barriers,” says Ms Crewther.

The Sense Partners report is available on the DairyNZ and DCANZ websites: and