Is Lifestyle block Sprawl a Ewe Can Dairy Opportunity?


Miles King of Kingsmeade Cheese, pressing his fine sheep cheese in his factory near Masterton.

I personally want to see Jiang Zhaobai’s application to the Overseas Investment Office to buy Lockinver Station tossed out,  and the property sold to a NZ domiciled and preferably farming-based investor. But what can we learn from this tussle over land between global and local capital? One thing might be a keener sense of how we are NOT  currently using productive NZ farmland  – and what we might do about it.

Lochinver is a big deal. But are we making the most productive use of land that New Zealanders already own? Recent land use research* shows that the threat to productivity is not just from absentee billionaires. Each year three Lochinver’s worth of land are turned into  lifestyle blocks (160 average dairy farms),  5,800 new ones in total,  are created across NZ adding to the 175,000 others that already exist. These cover about 10 percent of NZ’s non reserve land and currently about 17 percent of the country’s ‘high class’, this is highly  productive land. Around Auckland  the figure is twice the average this with  35 percent of  high class land now locked up in sprawling  lifestyle conversions. This form of semi-urban sprawl  long outstripped NZ’s urban sprawl.

Now the researchers appreciate the challenges of claiming that sub 40ha lifestyle conversions actually take that land out of productive use. Hopefully, Drs Andrew and Dymond are already working on the definitive answer to the question of just how unproductive are lifestyle conversions.  Chicken farms, piggeries, and some horticultural uses  can be highly productive but they are likely to be the exception. Just how many of piggeries have appeared on the lawns of the homes that have sprung up on the outskirts of NZ cities in the last 15 years? Not too many. The authors quote a Hawkes Bay survey that found that 66 percent of blocks of 4ha or less where not being used for any productive use at all. So what’s to be done?

One response would be to lock up all high value land. Some regional councils have moved in that direction. But what other intensive, productive farming options are worth trying?  Is there a living to be made in milking sheep that graze lush lifestyle block pastures and selling the milk to cheese makers, or ice cream makers or restaurants, cafes and the like? And with ewes is this a low capital route into dairying for those locked out of bovine dairying extraordinary amount of capital needed to get even the tiniest of footholds? We think there may well be. In the next postings we’ll outline some ideas we’ve had for developing commercially viable sheep milking operations that make more productive and sustainable use of NZ’s  semi-rural sprawl. We’ll also be discussing routes into ewe dairying for small sheep and beef operations. We’ll also be talking about finding buyers for sheep milk and sheep milk products and the character of the sheep dairy industry in other parts of the planet. Who are we? Just a bunch of Massey people keen to help sheep dairying along in New Zealand.

sheep of to the shed

Andrew R and Dymond JR (2013) Expansion of lifestyle blocks and urban areas onto high-class land: an update for planning and policy, Journal of the Royal Society of New Zealand . 43( 3): 128-140(

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