All up, stable cow numbers and some improvement in performance should solicit a 2 per cent to 2.5 per cent increase in milk production in 2018-19. As always, weather and pasture conditions will have the biggest say whether this materialises or not.
Peak milk production, new dairy farm conversions and cow numbers all appear to have coincided with the 2014-15 downturn in farmgate returns.
Regional council plan changes to address water quality, a slowing in irrigation development and improvements, high asset valuations, exiting of some marginal/smaller farmers and availability of suitable land to convert have all played a part too.
Milk production will finish the 2017-18 season some 3 per cent below the peak in 2014-15. Cow numbers will have dropped by a similar amount with lower average stocking rates across the sector and per head performance pulling back to the long-run trend of 380 milk solids/cow.
Looking forward most supply indicators would appear to be pointing toward stability in 2018-19.
Cash-flow forecasts are shaping up to be similar to the last year, cow numbers are fairly stable and feed/cow conditions heading into winter steady.
A bounceback in per cow performance could be due, but much will depend on how weather/pasture conditions evolve in the spring/summer.
One risk for production in 2018-19 is whether, or not farmers will be caught off guard by the new grading system for Palm Kernel Extract (PKE) concentrations and associated payment penalties Fonterra will implement.
Record high PKE imports of 2,363,371 tonnes over 2017 (a rise of 60 per cent on the previous year) were seen to plug feed deficits that emerged and improve diet balance.
We suspect there will be more blended feeds used to stay within the new standards. However, this could well cost more and if pasture conditions were to substantially deteriorate at any point this could well weigh on production if farmers are unprepared.
Con Williams is a Rural Economist at ANZ NZ