Agricultural and horticultural land use

  • Image, Land use.

    Dominant land uses in New Zealand include conservation (eg national and forestry parks), forestry (eg for timber resources/wood supply), urban (eg built up areas and open parkland), and agriculture and horticulture. Each land use places different pressures on the land and on receiving environments such as waterways. These pressures can be both positive (eg increased productivity) and negative (eg biodiversity loss and reduced functioning of ecosystems).

    We report on the use of land for primary production purposes, specifically agricultural land uses, such as beef and sheep farming and dairying, and horticultural land uses, such as fruit and berry, and vegetable growing. Nearly half of New Zealand’s total land area is used for horticultural and agricultural purposes.

    We classified Agriculture and horticultural land use as a case study.

    Key findings

    Trend not assessed

    Land used for dairying in New Zealand increased 42.4 percent, from 1.8 million ha to 2.6 million ha between 2002 and 2016. During that time, sheep and beef farming area decreased 19.8 percent, from 10.7 million ha to 8.5 million ha.

    Between 2002 and 2016:

    • The largest increases in land area used for dairying were in Canterbury (up 254, 508 ha or 154.7 percent), Waikato (up 184,817 ha or 35.4 percent), and Southland (up 184,726 ha or 157.5 percent).
    • The largest decreases in sheep and beef farming area were in Canterbury (down 828,233 ha or 32.5 percent), followed by Otago (down 237,624 ha or 11.6 percent) and Southland (down 206,001 ha or 22.8 percent).
    • Grain growing as a land use increased 101.4 percent from 2002, and in 2016 was 1.7 percent (448,777 ha) of New Zealand’s total land area.
    • Canterbury had the largest area increase in grain growing (up 78,621 ha), but the highest percent increase was in Taranaki (up 7,894 ha).
    • The total area in fruit and berries increased 13.2 percent (up 14,096 ha); while vegetable growing land decreased 29.2 percent (down 28,766 ha).

    At 2016:

    • 45.3 percent (12.1 million ha) of New Zealand’s total land area was being farmed for agricultural and horticultural use.
    • Otago (64.5 percent), Manawatu-Wanganui (57.9 percent), Hawke’s Bay (55.4 percent), Canterbury (55.3 percent), Waikato (55.2 percent) and Taranaki (55.1 percent) regions all used more than half of their land in this way.
    • Waikato and Taranaki had the greatest proportion of their land area in dairying (28.7 percent and 28.1 percent, respectively).
    • Sheep and beef farming was the main agricultural use (31.9 percent of total land), followed by dairying (9.8 percent of total land).
    • Less than 1 percent of New Zealand’s total land area was used for growing fruit and berries (0.5 percent or 120,894 ha) and vegetables (0.3 percent or 69,686 ha).
    Figure 1
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    Figure 2


    Note: Land use is output as farm type. Farm type is based on the primary activity on the farms and counts the total farm extent, excluding forestry, ie all the farm hectares under the one main activity.

    The total extent (land area) of farms is decreasing.

    Figure 3


    Note: Land use is output as farm type. Farm type is based on the primary activity on the farms and counts the total farm extent, excluding forestry; counts all the farm hectares under the one main activity.

    Definition and methodology

    Agricultural and horticultural land is land identified as used for primary production in Stats NZ’s agricultural and production statistics, which come from the agricultural production censuses and surveys conducted by Stats NZ with the Ministry for Primary Industries. The farms surveyed in the censuses and surveys include all businesses identified on Stats NZ’s Business Frame as having agricultural activity (eg engaged in horticulture, cropping, livestock farming, or exotic forestry operations). The Business Frame is a list of businesses in New Zealand, based on their registration for goods and services tax (GST) with Inland Revenue. The compulsory registration level for GST, since 2010, is $60,000 gross income (between 2002 and 2010, it was $40,000). Consequently, there is a partial and unquantifiable coverage of farm units below this level.

    We use data from 2002 onwards because the current version of the census and surveys started in 2002. Before 2002, questionnaire design, coverage and collection method varied, and the survey was conducted only in certain years. A census is undertaken every five years (eg 2002, 2007 and 2012). Between census years an annual survey is held where approximately 30,000 of the total 70,000 businesses involved in agricultural, horticultural, or forestry production are selected to participate (eg 2016).

    The agricultural production censuses and surveys use primary activity on the farm to identify the farm type, and reports farm type as land use for the total extent of the farm or farm area. This means that any secondary farm activities are attributed to the primary farm type, and the areas reported for this indicator are therefore the farm’s total land area rather than effective hectares used for a given land use.

    Total extent of the farm includes run-offs, all other land that is part of the farm, and land leased from others. We do not report on forestry land use, urban land use, or use of land for conservation purposes for this indicator. For data on these, see related indicators.

    The land use groupings come from the 2006 Australian and New Zealand Standard Industrial Classification. Sheep and beef farming covers specialised sheep farming, specialised beef cattle farming, and combined sheep-beef farming. Fruit and berry growing includes grapes, kiwifruit, berry fruit, apple and pear, stone fruit, citrus fruit, olives, and other fruit and tree nut growing. Vegetable growing includes mushrooms, and vegetable farming (under cover and outdoors). Other livestock types are horses, pigs, deer, and poultry. Also available in the dataset are floriculture, and nursery and turf.

    The Nelson and Tasman regional councils have been combined for output purposes, due to low numbers in the relatively small Nelson region.

    Data quality

    We classified Agricultural and horticultural land use as a case study.


    relevance-partial This case study is a partial measure of the 'Resource use and management, and other human activities' topic.


    accuracy-medium The accuracy of the data source is of medium quality.

    See Data quality information for more detail.

    Archived pages

    See Land use (archived April 2018).

    Published 19 April 2018

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