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New Zealand dairy farm systems and key environmental effects

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posted on 2023-05-03, 20:18 authored by Jiafa LuoJiafa Luo, Stewart LedgardStewart Ledgard
This paper provides an overview of the range of dairy pasture grazing systems used in New Zealand (NZ), the changes with increased inputs over time and associated key environmental effects including nitrogen (N) leaching and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. NZ dairy farming systems are based on year-round grazing and seasonal milk production on perennial ryegrass/clover pasture where cows are rotationally grazed in paddocks. There was an increase in stocking rate on NZ dairy farms from 2.62 cows ha−1 in 2000/2001 to 2.84 cows ha−1 in 2015/2016. During the same period annual milk solids production increased from 315 to 378 kg·yr−1 per cow. This performance has coincided with an increase in N fertilizer use (by ~ 30%) and a twofold increase in externally-sourced feeds. Externally-sourced feeds with a low protein concentration (e.g., maize silage) can increase the efficiency of N utilization and potentially reduce N losses per unit of production. Off-paddock facilities (such as standoff or feed pads) are often used to restrict grazing during very wet winter conditions. A systems analysis of contrasting dairy farms in Waikato (largest NZ dairying region) indicates that the increased input would result in an increase in per-cow milk production but little change in efficiency of milk production from a total land use perspective. This analysis also shows that the increased inputs caused an 11% decrease in N footprint (i.e., N emissions per unit of milk production) and a 2% increase in C footprint (i.e., greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions per unit of milk production).


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© The Author(s) 2020. Published by Higher Education Press. This is an open access article under the CC BY license (


  • English

Does this contain Māori information or data?

  • No


Higher Education Press

Journal title

Frontiers of Agricultural Science and Engineering




Luo, J., & Ledgard, S. (2020). New Zealand dairy farm systems and key environmental effects. Frontiers of Agricultural Science and Engineering, 8(1), 148–158. doi:10.15302/J-FASE-2020372

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