How much do you know about New Zealand? When asked, many might associate the name with rolling green hills and Peter Jackson’s film adaption of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Beyond its fictional representation, the nation itself stands as a collection of islands in the southwestern Pacific ocean. The climate is temperate, and centuries of geographical isolation have left the country with unprecedented biodiversity and beautiful landscapes. Claiming only 103,483 square miles of land, New Zealand holds a tiny fraction of the landmass claimed by larger nations such as the United States. However, this small and temperate country is famous for more than its brief stint as the set for Tolkien’s Middle Earth; in the international dairy market, New Zealand is readily recognized as one of the world’s top producers of milk. The mild climate, rich soil, and ample water sources create an ideal environment for pasture-based dairy farming; geographical isolation further limits incursions by predator or disease.


Interestingly enough, New Zealand only keeps about 5% of the milk it produces each year and accounts for 3% of the world’s total milk exports.  By the end of 2016, the country generated over 21,000 tons of milk. While the final numbers for its 2017 production will not be available until early next year, experts predict that New Zealand will reach roughly the same milestone by the close of December. Currently, the typical New Zealand dairy herd stands at 419 cows; however, many stand well over 600 heads and experts in the field are confident that the average herd size will increase in coming years. Analysts at Go Dairy! estimate that the average New Zealand cow produces as much as 4379 liters (1157 gallons) of milk per year.


That said, the nation does not limit itself to generating liquid milk. Given its geographical distance from most available markets, market demand, and the brisk seasonality of its milk production, much of what New Zealand produces is in a dry, powdered form. According to a report from the Dairy Companies Association of New Zealand, roughly 56% of the country’s dairy exports were whole- and skim-milk powder, while full-moisture products such as butter, cream products, and cheese held only 28%. The remaining 16% encompasses casein, protein products and albumins, as well as other unspecified dairy products.


New Zealand first entered the international dairy market as a butter exporter in 1882 and has since grown into the 8th largest contributor in the world. Currently, those operating in the New Zealand dairy market are regulated by the Dairy Industry Restructuring Act of 2001, which among other things dictates farmers’ license protocols and sets policies for international exports.