Milk is the foundation of the dairy industry, the most naturally complete, nutrient-rich source of protein with the lowest calories. The superior quality of this protein, along with the calcium, riboflavin (B2), 9 essential amino acids, vitamins A, D and B12, phosphorus, zinc and iodine found in milk products significantly benefit our diets at every stage of our lives, from the very youngest of us to the elderly.

New Zealand is facing a number of “macro level” dairy industry issues, ones that SmartShelters have the answer to. With a solution that not only mitigates these issues, but actually benefits the farm as a whole – including not just environmental, but also animal welfare, staffing conditions and financial aspects.

Whether you’ve worked in the dairy industry your whole life or you’re just curious about an important agricultural industry in New Zealand, the future direction of the industry across the country is a valid concern. While we don’t have all the answers, there are a number of key indicators to consider which will have a significant impact on the industry moving forward.

What are the Biggest Challenges for the Dairy Industry in New Zealand?

Of the more than 200 years that have passed since the missionary Samuel Marsden introduced the first dairy cows to New Zealand, over the past twenty years, the dairy sector has faced unforeseen challenges and levels of scrutiny never seen before. As all farmers know, the sector is staring down the barrel of many critical issues, including:

While there are certain things you can do to mitigate the many challenges you face, most dairy farmers would agree that ignoring the situation is not an option. Acknowledging and facing these challenges head-on means being prepared for them when they do arise on your farm, and having the knowledge and resources available to implement workable solutions that will overcome them.

What’s ahead for the Dairy Industry?

While there is a wide variety of ideas abound to cope with the issues dealt with in the dairy sector, many proposals to deal with them have tended to have a prohibitive, retreating tone, including tightening regulations, reducing herd numbers, restricting available land, applying caps on the use of synthetic fertilisers, and in a more extreme case, going as far as proposing to pay farmers to end dairying in New Zealand.

These kinds of restrictive proposals tend to ignore a few vital truths; namely:

  • Dairy products are a vital part of the world’s food supply, with more than six billion people across the globe consuming milk and dairy products.
  • The New Zealand dairy sector is a vital part of the economy, and 95% of what we produce is exported.
  • Dairy export revenue overtook tourism to become our largest export industry through the COVID-19 pandemic, and forecasts show it increasing by 10% to $20.9 billion in the year to 30 June 2022.
  • In addition to forming the backbone of our exports, the dairy sector employs over 40,000 people and benefits a much wider range of supporting industries.
  • In spite of the prevailing negative sentiment, New Zealand is already one of the cleanest sources of dairy on the planet, leading the world with a carbon footprint per kilogram of milk solids that is not only the lowest in the world but sits at a remarkable 48% less than the average of all countries studied.

While this list isn’t exhaustive, it’s safe to say that efforts to constrict the dairy industry in NZ will have far-reaching consequences in multiple sectors of the economy. With its outsized role in the country’s economic well-being, the dairy sector is poised to experience continued growth and improved productivity in spite of these pressures. Efforts to constrict the sector will only be confronted by the inevitable expansion of dairy farming capacity and output across NZ as dairy products continue to see sustainable growth in export markets across the world.

Nonetheless, the fortunes of the dairy sector are inextricably linked to how well these issues are handled and resolved in the next decade. Failure to adequately address these issues may attract such pressure from regulators and the public alike, that the ensuing fallout could send the dairy sector into a precipitous downturn.

While this is unlikely, it’s not beyond the realm of possibility and speaks to the importance of ensuring the increased scrutiny on the dairy sector results in meaningful and sustainable solutions. Overcoming the issues facing the sector will further cement NZ’s dairy sector as a global case study of sustainable, responsible food production.

Is Sustainable Dairy Possible?

NZ is already one of the cleanest sources of dairy on the planet. Although half of New Zealand’s emissions come from agriculture and nearly a quarter come from dairy biological emissions (nitrous oxide and methane), New Zealand’s dairy farmers have the world’s lowest carbon footprint emitting half as much as other international producers.

New Zealand’s globally unique grass-based, outdoor grazing system is critical to our low emissions results and there is a vast amount of development and implementation ongoing to bring the emissions even further down.

So can we be more sustainable and efficient? The answer is yes. Our farmers are opting for methods that work positively for the animals and the environment, with SmartShelters composting barns we are more humane to our cattle and more sustainable in our farming practices.

What is the Solution for the Future of Dairy Farms?

There is a compelling solution, one which can be implemented in the next decade, and one which offers a transformative approach that will benefit all stakeholders. The solution has been well covered by a respected independent consultant, Professor Keith Woodford:

Composting barns1

Our composting barns (referred to by Prof Keith Woodford as ‘composting mootels’) are like no other type of barn, they are open structures focusing on cow comfort, they can be a great enhancement to animal welfare and cows love them!

In addition to this, they fit seamlessly into New Zealand’s pastoral systems and in the process solve key environmental problems: The combination of the bedding with the effluent from the cattle creates the perfect warm environment while simultaneously composting the waste, the bedding only needs to be changed once a year and can be used as fertiliser.

One may argue that the most exciting thing about the composting barns is that the nitrogen is bound within the compost and released at a rate that the grass can use rather than leaching into the soil bed. Therefore the first design of the composting barn in New Zealand was most definitely a happy accident and one that we can recreate again and again for the betterment of our environment as well as our cows!

Make the transition today with SmartShelters composting barns. We invite you to be part of the wave of transformation over the coming years to prove that dairy farming can move seamlessly into a sustainable future.