Campbell believes the future of dairying will look different, but science will continue to lie at the heart of rising to that challenge.

The dairy sector has faced many challenges over recent decades, yet still made huge gains and progress. That’s been driven by farmers, scientists, organisations, community groups and sector partners (including DairyNZ) working together for positive change, says DairyNZ CEO, Campbell Parker.

“I’m new here, but I’m incredibly proud of the work farmers and DairyNZ have done together over the last 15+ years and I think the sector will continue to play a really important role in the fabric of New Zealand.”

“DairyNZ’s role is to pull all of our research together and continue its development, so farmers can adapt their farm systems and remain relevant and profitable. I think that’s at the core of it,” he says.

Campbell Parker.

“Our research also needs to be understood in the context of the farm system: to bring in the economic modelling to see what the impact might be, because we’re acutely aware that our farmers are incredibly focused on profit – and they need to be.”

DairyNZ chief science adviser Bruce Thorrold, who’s been with DairyNZ for over two decades, agrees.

“In the 40 years since I started my career in research, I’ve never been more excited about the opportunities ahead. If you look at the current international context, the quality of the food we produce, and the talent we have in the sector – there are a lot of reasons to be very positive about where we go in the future.”

Bruce Thorrold.

Jason Christensen, Wairarapa

Owns a 380-cow dairy farm that’s been in the family 145+ years

To stay competitive, the Christensens are running Jerseys, building their genetics to produce lighter-hooved cows that can cope with the effects of climate change, and developing more shade/shelter. Jason’s also involved in the Nestlé/Fonterra project.

“I think DairyNZ should be leaders in the field of science for the dairy sector and very much supporting. If we can keep a clean green low footprint focus on our farms, we should have a pretty good future. Especially, if farmers can see a reward in their milk cheque because of doing those things. As an industry leader DairyNZ needs to be driving that and it needs to be sciencebased rather than politically-based.”

From there to here

DairyNZ’s science and research combines detailed experiments with farmer-led, robust on-farm testing, helping create a broad range of information, tools and resources for farmers.

“For example, working with partner farms trialling plantain,” says Bruce. “If we tried to do that amount of on-farm research with structured programmes, we’d never get it done.”

Campbell emphasises that evidence and trust plays a key role in what DairyNZ can achieve for the sector’s farmers at a national level.

“The evidence that we gain from our science and research underpins our advocacy on behalf of farmers to achieve fair and pragmatic policy outcomes,” he says. “It also helps to build trust across the sector. Our support for farmers to upskill on making submissions on regional policy ensures farmers’ voices are heard at every level.”

Graeme Riesterer, Bay of Plenty

Whakatohea Māori Trust (finalists: 2024 Ahuwhenua Trophy competition)

Trust Board member Graeme chairs Whakatohea’s farm committee. The Trust’s Opōtiki-based multi-farms are Iwi-led and operated. They’re future-proofing through riparian planting, steadily reducing stocking rates and being involved in GHG/ methane reduction research with Lincoln University and the Nestlé/Fonterra project.

“Our tikanga is the basis of everything we do. Science also gives us the ideas which we, through practice, turn into knowledge. Often, a lot of what science finds, has already been discovered, be it from our elders, or from other cultures. We can all benefit from that. We’ve also taken up and enhanced all that by learning from the European culture as well.”

Research snapshot

Capturing the full span of 15-20 years’ worth of DairyNZ’s science and research is challenging, but the timeline shown at the bottom of this article captures some highlights.

Next, our Frontier Farms project and its extended lactation trials (2023 onwards) will focus on identifying further time-savings and efficiencies; and how to reduce the number of bobby calves born.

Campbell also points to the rise of innovative tools like wearable collars and how they’re shaping farm systems. “It’s really important that our sector keeps an open mind on what the possibilities might be around emerging tech.”

Blair Robinson, Canterbury

Dairy Holdings Limited (Chief operating officer)

We’ve got a positive view of the future and are buoyed to see many of our own sharemilkers continually reaching farm ownership, even over the last few years.

We’re investing in the development and progression of our people: they are our key to a successful future. We’ve moved to 100% pasture diet for our dairy farms several seasons ago. We’re also trying to do the basics well. For example, our six-week in-calf rate has steadily improved to 78%. Sector research and development, including by DairyNZ and Fonterra, will also help to make dairying’s future more sustainable, and in many cases, more profitable.

Looking ahead

“We need to keep pushing the frontier around productivity while also making sure we do things right for our animals and the environment,” says Campbell. “We also can’t lose sight of the fact that we still need to be really good at growing grass and turning it into milk – and doing that profitably.”

“That means we do the science, understand the implications, have input into policy, work with agri-business partners on technical solutions, and work with farmers to understand and innovate,” adds Bruce.

“There’s a lot to balance,” acknowledges Campbell, “but with the right science and support, underpinned by evidence and trust, and by working together, the future’s looking bright for the sector, its farmers, their communities and everyone who benefits from them.”

Research in focus


NZAEL launches new Fertility Breeding Value.


The Dairy Tomorrow sectorwide strategy commits the sector to Farm Environment Plans, delivering on good farming practice, nutrient use, & farm system solutions.


Primary sector He Waka Eke Noa partners recommend Government adopt a split-gas approach to pricing agricultural emissions by 2025. This framework was later abandoned by Government.


Government proposes agricultural emissions pricing. Agricultural leaders negotiate a partnership approach (He Waka Eke Noa) to pricing & managing emissions.


Further research by worldleading scientists (with B+LNZ & Federated Farmers) reinforces the evidence for a split-gas, warming-based target for biogenic methane.


A study & scientific paper commissioned by DairyNZ looked at the carbon footprint of milk worldwide. It found NZ dairy is one of the lowest emissions per kg of fat & protein-corrected milk.


DairyNZ Pillars programme identifies new predictors of fertility. DairyNZ works with 100+ farmers giving access to 10,000+ heifers. Heifers’ lactations & reproduction tracked, to test effects on genetic gain rates.


In the Resilient Dairy project, DairyNZ starts new work on genomic evaluation techniques & data sources supporting sector-wide genomic animal evaluation & greater rates of genetic gain.


DairyNZ scientists’ ongoing partnering with commercial companies, Government & research organisations develops methane mitigation packages suitable for NZ pasture-based farm systems.


Government introduces Zero Carbon Act. DairyNZ advocates successfully for a split-emissions approach, recognising differences between biogenic methane & long-lived fossil fuel gases.


DairyNZ’s Step Change programme launched. This programme gives farmers options for achieving environmental goals while also increasing profit.


DairyNZ Sustainable Catchment projects launched in Tararua, Selwyn-Hinds & Aparima, to support farmers to improve water quality, while maintaining profitable & resilient businesses.


Dairy Action for Climate Change developed in partnership with Fonterra (supported by MPI & MfE). It continues to help dairy farmers & the sector address on-farm methane & nitrous emissions.


DairyNZ launches a comprehensive research programme & campaign to improve wintering practices & animal care outcomes.


Regional farmer-led research tests new systems for greater profit & lower footprint in Northland (NDDT), Taranaki (DTT) & Southland (SDH).


The Labour Productivity through Efficient Milk Harvesting programme leads to timesaving milking practices such as MaxT, ACR thresholds & adjusted rotary platform speed & herringbone routines.


DairyNZ leads Pastoral 21 NZ-wide research to reduce N leaching & the impacts of wintering on water quality, while maintaining profitability. Research including partner farms creates effective practices now being adopted by farmers.


Once-a-day milking research demonstrates the potential of reduced milking frequencies for reducing labour input & achieving farm performance goals.


PGGRC & DairyNZ/other sector partners have invested $90M+ in exploring technology-based solutions, so NZ’s pastoral farmers can reduce GHG emissions & increase productivity.


DairyBase created; adds input from farmers/accountants/consultants & academics; informs regional/national policy advocacy on how water/climate regulations affect farm profitability.


New ryegrass generation endophytes AR1/AR37 with less animal health effects tested for safe & productive use for cows.


The Holstein Friesian Strain shows 20 years of genetic gains, $600/ ha additional profit, & identifies weight, body condition score & fertility challenges.

This article was originally published in Inside Dairy April-May 2024

Page last updated:

29 Apr 2024