New Zealand’s temperate climate, good rainfall, environmental conditions and healthy pasture are ideal for dairy cows.

New Zealand cows primarily graze on fields, year round. The grass they graze on has been grown especially for their optimal nutrition and to achieve a milk high in protein, mineral and vitamin content.

Dairy is the backbone of our food and beverage industry - New Zealand accounts for 2.4 percent of global milk production and one third of global dairy trade.

New Zealand's export of dairy products reached its historical peak of NZ$17 billion in the year ending December 2014. Total exports of dairy products in the year to June 2015 were valued at NZ$13.5 billion. 

New Zealand can provide everything from high-quality basics such as butter and cheese, through to gourmet ice cream and specialised ingredients like spray-dried milk proteins. Development of new functional foods (ie low-fat, high calcium and protein milk) and biomedical and biohealth products are also growing trends in the industry.

Excellent hygiene and quality technology put New Zealand dairy among the most reliable in the world. You can feel secure consuming products that comply with our rigorous health and safety standards.

Industry structure

Dairy co-operatives have been part of the industry since 1871. The industry is one of New Zealand's largest and best examples of a vertically integrated, co-ordinated global supplier industry. The dominant players are Fonterra, Tatua and Westland. Other players include Open Country Cheese, Goodman Fielder and Synlait.


New Zealand's dairy innovations include:

  • A partnership between Fonterra and GE Healthcare, a leading healthcare company, to tackle bone health issues using Anlene products and GE's bone mineral density technology.
  • Achieving a world-first by breeding cows that produce low-fat milk that is also high in omega3 oils and polyunsaturated fat. The cows were bred from a single female discovered by researchers to have a particular genetic mutation during a routine milk  screening programme.
  • Developing the world's first commercialised infant formula from goat milk and the world's first long-life goat milk. The company behind this innovation, Dairy Goat Co-operative NZ Limited, continues to develop and make a range of premium specialty formulations based on goat milk.
  • The world's first processing plant to produce complex lipids from milk - the result of a long-term collaboration between Fonterra's ingredients business and Industrial  Research Limited. In a purified form, these lipids can be worth thousands of dollars a kilogram. They have a variety of applications in nutritional and cosmetic applications.

Regional strengths

The North Island is home to 68 percent of New Zealand's dairy cattle, with approximately 30 percent of the country's total located in the Waikato region. Taranaki is the second most populated region at 11 percent. Dairy cattle in the South Island accounts for 32 percent of the national total, with Canterbury being the biggest dairy-producing region. 

Other specific regional activity includes a cluster of dairy sheep farmers in Otago and Southland, which is focusing on three key areas:

  • producing sheep milk for cheese plants such as Whitestone Cheese (added-value sheep milk cheese)
  • feta cheese production
  • biotech applications.

A dairy education and innovation centre in the Manawatu also offers specific graduate training for the dairy industry by Massey University in conjunction with Fonterra.

Organic production

There are more than 100 organic dairy farms in the North Island, with the regions of Taranaki, Waikato and the Bay of Plenty having regional clusters of organic milk producers. There are around 200 suppliers of organic farming inputs, such as seaweed drenches and organic fertilisers and animal health products, supporting the sector.

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