Farm Systems and Farm Planning

Farm systems are all unique due to landscape, environment, climate and personnel differences.


The Five Production Systems are a way to group farm production systems by allocation of imported feed.

System 1 - All grass self-contained, 100% home-grown feed with all adult stock on the dairy platform

No feed is imported. No supplement is fed to the herd except supplement harvested off the effective milking area and dry cows are not grazed off the effective milking area.

System 2 - 90-99% of total feed is home-grown feed

1-10% of feed is imported either as supplement or grazing off for wintering dry cows.

System 3 - 80-89% of total feed is home-grown feed

11-20% of total feed is imported to extend lactation (typically autumn feed) and for wintering dry cows.

System 4 - 70-79% of total feed is home-grown feed

Approx 21-30% of feed imported and used at both ends of lactation and for wintering dry cows.

System 5 - 50-69% of total feed is home-grown feed

More than 31% of feed imported and used throughout lactation. Feed imported could be greater than 50%

*Note: Farms feeding 1-2kg of meal or grain per cow per day for most of the season will best fit in System 3.

Drystock Farming Systems

Beef and Lamb created the eight farm classes, to assist in benchmarking production.

South Island high country (2%)

Extensive run country located at high altitude. These farms run a diverse mix of operations which include breeding sheep, often fine wooled, breeding cows and deer. Stocking rate is typically up to three stock units per hectare. Located mainly in Marlborough, Canterbury and Otago.

South Island hill country (8%)

Traditionally store stock producers with a proportion sold prime in good seasons. Carrying between two and seven stock units per hectare, they usually have a significant proportion of beef cattle.

North Island hard hill country (10%)

Steep hill country or low fertility soils with most farms carrying 6 to 10 stock units per hectare. While some stock are finished a significant proportion are sold in store condition.

North Island hill country (33%)

Easier hill country or higher fertility soils than Class 3. Mostly carrying between 7 and 13 stock units per hectare. A high proportion of sale stock sold is in forward store or prime condition.

North Island finishing farms (11%)

Easy contour farmland with the potential for high production. Mostly carrying between 8 and 15 stock units per hectare. A high proportion of stock is sent to slaughter and replacements are often bought in.

South Island finishing-breeding farms (20%)

Farms which breed or trade finishing stock and may do some cash cropping. A proportion of stock may be sold store, especially from dryland farms. Carrying capacity ranges from 6 to 11 stock units per hectare on dryland farms and over 12 stock units per hectare on wetter or irrigated farms. Mainly in Canterbury and Otago, this is the dominant farm class in the South Island.

South Island finishing farms (11%)

High producing grassland farms carrying about 9 to 14 stock units per hectare, with some cash crop. Located in Southland, South and West Otago.

South Island mixed cropping and finishing farms (5%)

Located mainly on the Canterbury Plains. A high proportion of their revenue is derived from grain and small seed production, as well as stock finishing or grazing.


The arable industry is centered in the Canterbury Region; production of arable crops in formerly important regions including Manawatu and Southland has declined over the past 20 years.

Crop rotations are determined by market, previous crop, soil fertility and infrastructure, with many arable farms incorporating a range of crop types. A diverse range of crops are grown including cereals, pulses, herbage seeds and vegetables. Cereals account for most of the area planted in crops each year.

  • Cereal or grain crops including barley and wheat.
  • Forages supplied to local dairy farmers.
  • vegetable seed produced for export, principally peas, radish and carrot.
  • Herbage seeds, dominated by perennial ryegrass and white clover, are produced to supply the requirements of Aotearoa New Zealand's pastoral industries and for export.
  • Vegetable production includes both fresh and processed crops; potatoes, peas and sweetcorn are the major process crops, with significant exports. Onions and buttercup squash are the main fresh crop vegetables.

Nutrient loss limits, proposed by many regional councils, suggest that nutrient management is likely to become a challenging issue for many arable farmers, particularly those growing winter vegetables and forage crops for winter grazing of dairy cattle.


The Aotearoa New Zealand horticulture industry comprises growers of fruit and vegetables for export and domestic consumption.

Aotearoa New Zealand is well known for its kiwifruit and apple exports. Indeed, most of the fruit grown in Aotearoa New Zealand is exported to markets around the world, whereas most of the vegetables grown in Aotearoa New Zealand are for domestic consumption, with some notable exceptions like potatoes, onions, and buttercup squash.


Viticulture is the science of growing grapes. In Aotearoa New Zealand, grapes are mainly grown for wine production. Some are also grown as table grapes. Good wine starts in the vineyard. It is the grape grower’s job to deliver a quality crop to the winemaker. The grower must match a grape variety to its site and manage its growth through the seasons.

Grapevines are deciduous. As the weather cools and the days shorten in autumn (March-May), their green leaves turn yellow and crimson, then drop off. The leafless stems, known as canes, then enter a period of dormancy over winter, which is the time for pruning.

When spring (September-November) arrives and average temperatures reach 10°C, buds swell then burst, and leafy shoots appear on the canes, followed by flower clusters. Shoots grow rapidly during summer, and fruit develops and starts to ripen. Fruit is harvested from late February for early-ripening varieties, through to mid-May for late-ripening grapes.

Growing vines need some form of support to hold them above the ground and to maximise sunlight on their leaves. In Aotearoa New Zealand, they are trained onto a wire trellis system attached to posts in the ground. There are various ways of arranging shoots and leaves, but most Aotearoa New Zealand growers use the vertical shoot positioning method. Trellis rows are usually oriented north-south so each side of the canopy gets similar amounts of sunshine.

The density of planting varies between vineyards. Rows may be spaced 1.5 to 2.5 metres apart, with plants 0.9 to 2 metres apart.

If grapes are not pruned each year, they develop many unproductive shoots and soon become a tangled mess of leaves and stems. At least 90% of the previous season's growth is removed each winter. Vines are either spur pruned - where one or two branches are permanently trained along a trellis wire and the side branches are cut back to two or three buds - or cane pruned, where one or two new branches are selected each winter and trained along the wires, and the rest are removed.

As grapes ripen, their sugar levels increase and acid levels decrease. The fruit is ready for harvest when its sugar levels are 20-24%. The grower assesses ripeness by testing the juice on an instrument called a refractometer, checking if the seeds have turned brown, or seeing if a berry can be easily pulled from its cluster.

The largest vineyards mechanically harvest their grapes, with one machine doing the work of dozens of hand pickers. Small vineyards producing boutique table wines still hand pick their crop.

Sustainable Winegrowing NZ™ is widely recognised as a world-leading sustainability programme and was one of the first to be established in the international wine industry in 1995. SWNZ is a programme based on continuous improvement and adherence to standards that ensures members meet guidelines for sustainability practices in the vineyard and winery.

The programme was elected by grape growers across the country, followed by wineries with the establishment of sustainable winery certification standards in 2002.

96% of Aotearoa New Zealand's vineyard producing area is SWNZ certified. Over 90% of the wine produced in Aotearoa New Zealand is processed in SWNZ certified facilities. This level of industry-wide participation in a sustainability scheme is a massive point of difference for wine produced in Aotearoa New Zealand. SWNZ certifies all parts of the production chain including vineyards, wineries, bottling facilities, and brands.

Information about Freshwater Farm Plans

Freshwater Farm Plans are a regulated approach to environmental farm Planning in Aotearoa New Zealand. For accurate and up to date information it is important to source information from the Ministry for the Environment

Farm Environment Plans

A farm environment plan is a tool used to identify on-farm environmental risks and develop a suitable program to manage these risks. Farm environment plans are unique to each farm and often reflect the climate, soils, type of farming operation, and the goals and objectives the farmers would like to achieve. It should include a farm map displaying the areas of environmental risk and good management practices that the farmer will intend to implement to manage the environmental risks.

Farmers and growers will be required to have Freshwater Farm Plans under new 2023 regulations. These requirements will require identification and management of environmental risks, will link to catchment context and will be a significant change for farmers and growers.