• $12.3bn
    Export Revenue for year ending June 2022
  • 23%
    Contribution to total export revenue in the food and fibre sector as at June 2022
  • $3.7 bn
    Contribution to GDP of Sheep & Beef Farming and Wool Wholesaling in 2022
  • 53,850
    Individuals worked in Sheep, Beef and Deer farming across 2020


James Cook brought the first sheep to Aotearoa in 1773, but the first sheep farms were not set up until 1840. Sheep farming was a pillar in the development of the country’s economy, and remained the most important agricultural industry for 130 years, from 1856-1987, until dairy farming surpassed it. In the 1870s, before the advent of refrigeration, Aotearoa was exporting wool and tallow. In 1882, frozen meat was able to be exported, and this became very important to the economy and led to the expansion of farming across the motu.  

Export revenue for meat and wool exceeded $12 billion in 2022. In 2020, we counted over 53,000 people in the workforce, making it the largest workforce grouping in the food and fibre sector, after Support Services. Māori contribution to the economy is significant, with an estimated 11% of businesses (approximately 1,500 businesses) in Sheep, Beef and Deer being Māori owned, and 17% of employees being Māori. In the Shearing Services sub-industry, this number is significantly higher, with Māori making up 65% of the workforce. 

Rising costs, alongside a decrease in the price of wool, are a challenge for the Wool industry. Staff retention is further compounding these issues. The Deer industry has also been struggling in recent years with market challenges, which have led to more of a reliance on rural professionals for guidance, support, and expert advice through the Passion2Profit market-led production programme. While sheep farming decreased 1.7 million hectares (29%) and beef farming decreased 1.3 million hectares (32%) between 2002 and 2019, export revenue is on the rise.

The wider Sheep, Beef and Deer industry has a few big challenges ahead, including adapting to climate change, an aging workforce (43% of the workforce is aged 55 or over), and a lack of clear pathways for new entrants. Technology is changing rapidly, and qualifications aren’t keeping up. New government regulations are continuing to be introduced which seek to help farmers mitigate their climate change impact. These challenges provide new and innovative opportunities for the Sheep, Beef, and Deer industry. Ensuring that the industry has the skills and available training to adapt to a changing environment will be a key part of embracing these opportunities.


We highlight the current key priorities and opportunities for each industry, and links back to the supporting evidence base to show why they have been selected as a priority. These opportunities will be updated on an ongoing basis as our understanding of the industry evolves and deepens.

This is our plan to address the opportunities that arose from our engagement, research and analysis. It includes real actions that we are committed to delivering – these are both industry specific and cross-cutting actions across all industries in the food and fibre sector where common themes emerged.

It includes broader areas or dependencies where external parties will need to provide input into solutions with Muka Tangata support; for example, advocacy, engagement, collaboration, and provision of specific expertise or data. We will work in collaboration with those who will need to take the lead in this area. This section will test potential solutions that we’re working on and seek feedback and input into them.