Agriculture Sector Action Plan to 2013
Appendix 1: The agriculture sector at a glance
The agriculture industry in New Zealand is large, with nearly 15 million hectares of land being farmed by more than 60,000 firms. Multiple farm ownership and/or management – either by family businesses or corporate entities is estimated to account for less than 10% of NZ farms. Agriculture and horticulture businesses in New Zealand have traditionally been based around family owned and operated units, meaning that the business often doubles as the family home.
The main forms of farming are dairy, sheep, beef cattle, other livestock (including deer, pigs and poultry), crops (fruit, vegetables and grains), beekeeping, and grape growing.
Dairy and sheep farming dominate. Total sheep numbers have been declining, with 32.6 million sheep in 2010 (from a peak of 70.3 million in the early 1980s). This reflects the trend towards dairying, with just over 5.9 million dairy cattle. In recent years most of the growth in dairying has been in the South Island, though Waikato continues to have the most dairy cattle. More than 90% of all New Zealand dairy farms are owned by a family rather than a company or city-based investor. Sharemilkers operate 35% of all farms.
Horticulture has become more significant and the crops grown have diversified. The horticultural industry is based largely on the export of kiwifruit, pipfruit, wine, and fresh and processed vegetables. Bay of Plenty is the largest kiwifruit growing area, with Marlborough leading in grapes and Hawke’s Bay in pipfruit. Barley, wheat and maize make up the bulk of grain crops. Canterbury accounts for nearly 90% of all wheat and two-thirds of all barley harvested. Maize is mostly grown in the North Island. There is a lot of niche development and innovation in the horticulture industry, with avocados, berryfruit, summerfruit, olive oil and other crops being exported or having future export potential.
Place in the economy
The agriculture sector remains hugely important to New Zealand, both in terms of image and of export trade. Much of our agriculture remains internationally competitive, partly because animals are largely grass fed, but also because New Zealand farmers are technologically innovative and sensitive to market opportunities and changes.
Agriculture makes a significant contribution to the NZ economy, making up 5% of GDP in the year ending March 2011. Dairy and meat products are NZ’s largest exports. Dairy farmers make up 0.62% of the New Zealand population, yet contribute 2.8% to GDP -$5 billion annually - providing 26% of New Zealand’s total goods exports.
Over the past ten years, multi-factor productivity for the agricultural sector has grown at a much higher rate than the economy as a whole. This is important because in the longer term, productivity is what determines economic growth and international competitiveness.
Around 128,000 people work in the agriculture sector (nearly 5.5% of New Zealand’s total workforce). About 40% are self-employed. Although employment growth has been fairly flat recently, agriculture is expected to be one of the largest growing industries over the next five years. Contracting arrangements are common in sub-industries providing services to the agriculture sector, such as fencing and shearing.
Smaller, family-owned and operated farms utilise unpaid family labour to a large extent. Accompanying the trend towards larger scale amalgamations and intensification in farming practice, there has been a move towards paid labour.
Agricultural workers work long hours. They receive lower median hourly wages compared with the overall median. Worker turnover is higher in agriculture, but has been decreasing in recent years.
Qualification levels vary according to occupation within the industry. Specialised managers have a high proportion of bachelor or higher degrees. However, a higher proportion of employees have no qualifications, compared to the average for all other industries.
The demographics of the industry are changing rapidly, in that the workforce is aging and is becoming more ethnically diverse. These changes are likely to have an impact on the type of injuries occurring and how we go about preventing them. In particular, use of migrant labour is not only prevalent in the horticulture and viticulture sectors but also in the dairy sector. New Zealand and overseas research shows that managing the occupational health and safety of migrant labour creates new challenges for both the farmer and farm labourer. Underpinning this research is the view that it is important to look behind the official injury data at who is employed, how they are employed and how the work is organised.
Health and safety performance
Consistently, the agriculture sector has among the highest rates of work-related injury and fatality in New Zealand. Between 2003 and 2008, there was an average of 8.9 fatalities per 100,000 workers in the sector each year – almost two and a half times the average across all industries. Ten agricultural workers were killed in 2008, out of a total of 86 recorded fatalities.
Agriculture is similarly represented in terms of serious injuries. Between 2003 and 2008, an average of more than 4,000 ACC claims involving entitlement payments were made in the agriculture sector each year. At a rate of 29.8 claims per 1,000 workers, this is almost double the rate for all industries.
Within the agriculture sector, the largest numbers of injuries and fatalities occur in three sub-sectors: dairy cattle farming, sheep-beef farming, and services to agriculture. Between them, these sub-sectors between them account for about two-thirds of all ACC claims in agriculture, including fatalities.
 For detailed statistics for the New Zealand Dairy sector [external link, pdf file 54 pages, 5.4MB]
 Zaronaite, D., and Tirzite, A. 2006. The dynamics of migrant labour in South Lincolnshire, East Midland Development Agency; Howard, J. 2010. Foreword for Special Edition on Migration and Occupational Health, American journal of industrial medicine 53: 325–326; and Schenker, M.B. 2010. A Global Perspective of Migration and Occupational Health, American journal of industrial medicine 53: 329–337.
 Entitlement payments include death, weekly compensation, and rehabilitation payments.