Ahu miraka


$26 billion

annual export earnings (updated Dec annually)


average workforce


part-year workers


of production workforce are managers

What is the dairy sector?

The dairy sector includes dairy farming, dairy processing, cheese, ice cream and other dairy product manufacturing and wholesaling.

This information expands on and interprets our data visualisation for all sectors, which can be filtered by sector and parts of it, like processing or production.

How many work in dairy?

Data for year ending 31 March 2022.
Data for year ending 31 March 2022.
Designation Count
Core production 39,783
Core processing/manufacturing 14,400
Strongly connected 1,108
Total 55,208

Designation workforce counts won't necessarily sum to the total - some people may work in more than one designation. The total indicates the overall unique average number of people who work in the sector. 

Seasonal change: Workforce over a year

Our data visualisations show average workforce counts across a year for the dairy sector.

Roles and skill levels

MPI and NZIER's report 'The food and fibre workforce: Data on its size and composition' from June 2022 sets out the proportion of managers, semi-autonomous and managed staff in the dairy sector.

Dairy core production

Interviews with the dairy farming workforce showed:

  • the owner-operator business model is most common
  • workers and managers work full-year, with part-year workers over calving.

Waikato is the biggest region for dairy production, followed by Canterbury and Otago-Southland.

Dairy core processing/manufacturing

Dairy processing includes bovine, goat and sheep milk processing. Most is bovine milk processing, but other processing is growing. In the future, this category may include plant-based milk processors.

Interviews showed us:

  • dairy processing uses a system where staff get a set number of work hours a year. This gives flexibility for seasonal flush in spring and when cows are dried off in winter.
  • part-year workers are a small proportion of the workforce
  • employment tends to be full-time.

New Zealand Dairy Workers Union reports increasing skill levels in dairy processing as equipment has become more sophisticated.

Businesses included in the dairy sector

Core production

Dairy cattle farming

Core processing/manufacturing

Milk and cream processing
Ice cream manufacturing
Cheese and other dairy product manufacturing

Strongly connected

Dairy produce wholesaling