New Zealand's major source of income comes from agriculture. It has developed advanced techniques to use the country's rugged land, including specially designed aircraft to replace land machinery. Many areas are highly mechanized. About 50% of total export income comes from meat, dairy products, and wool; the land supports some 68 million sheep and 4.8 million beef cattle. New Zealand is one of the world's largest exporters of lamb and mutton, has a growing beef industry (about 75% of which is produced in the North Island), and supplies about 90 countries with meat (the major markets are the U.K., Iran, Russia, Japan, U.S., and Canada). New Zealand is also one of the largest and most efficient exporters of dairy products. The combination of a good growing climate, stable rainfall, and lush grass year-round has produced an average herd of about 120 cows; most of the 3.3 million dairy cows in the country are Jerseys or Friesians (that's one cow per person!). Butter (mostly to the U.K.) and cheddar cheese (mostly to Japan and the U.K.) are the major dairy exports, but casein (mainly to the U.S.) and skim-milk powder (to a wide variety of countries, mainly in Asia) are also in demand. New Zealand's rich and creamy dairy products are among the best in the world--one taste and you'll be convinced!
Sheep are a predominant part of the landscape throughout the whole of New Zealand. New Zealand is the second-largest producer of sheep (after Australia) and largest supplier of medium to coarse crossbred wool (for carpets, upholstery, and clothing) in the world, with an average flock of about 1,800 sheep. In North Island hill country, sheep are farmed for their wool; the fertile lowland farms (up to 25 sheep per hectare) specialize in lamb production (mainly for the U.K. and Iran) and mutton production (mainly for Russia and Japan). Teams of sheepshearers travel around the country from woolshed to woolshed, many shearing more than 200 sheep each a day (don't miss any opportunity to watch shearers in action--their speed and dexterity are really something). Most of the medium-to-coarse crossbred wool used for carpetmaking and knitting yarn comes from romney sheep; the fine wool used for soft fabrics and high-quality yarn comes from merino sheep. High-quality sheepskins are a popular tourist purchase.
Most of the crops--wheat, barley, maize, oats, vegetables, berry fruit, and tobacco--are grown for the local market. However, malting barley, herbage seeds, some herbs, and oilseed rape have become export crops. Grass and clover seed markets have developed in the U.S., the U.K., and Australia. The citrus export industry has grown dramatically as kiwifruit, tamarillos, feijoas, and passionfruit have increased in popularity worldwide; apples and pears are also important exports. Orchards in the North produce apples, apricots, peaches, plums, nectarines, berryfruit, cherries, lemons, and oranges, mostly for local consumption, but increasingly for export. Hops and tobacco leaf (plus orchard fruit) are grown for the local market in the warm, sunny Nelson area of the South Island.
After agriculture, forestry is New Zealand's next important industry. More than 27% of the country is covered by forest--about 1.2 million hectares of production plantation forest and 6.2 million hectares of indigenous forests. As native trees are very slow-growing, they are used for special purposes only. The planted forests of exotic radiata pine are the major suppliers of New Zealand's timber. Radiata grows rapidly here, producing a high amount of usable wood per tree. Forest export products consist of timber, wood pulp and chips, paper, building boards, plywood, veneers, and various oils. Australia and Japan are New Zealand's largest customers of forest product exports.
Many basic industries, such as textiles and leather goods, tobacco, rubber and plastics, fruit and vegetables, building supplies, and furniture, are flourishing in New Zealand. Light manufacturing provides an increasing range of both consumer and industrial goods. Aircraft manufacture, motor vehicle assembly, and the textiles and garment industry all provide employment. Two steel companies in New Zealand make heavy equipment from imported steel. Engineers have made many advancements in highly specialized electronic equipment for agriculture, medicine, and veterinary science.
New Zealand does not have large mineral deposits and so relies heavily on imported raw materials to manufacture chemicals. Imported petroleum supplies almost 50% of New Zealand's energy needs; hydroelectricity, natural coal and gas, solar energy, and geothermal steam supply the rest. Nuclear power is not foreseeable in New Zealand's future (hooray!), the country's objective being to harness its own natural power resources. Newer ventures include oil refining, aluminium smelting, and ironsand deposit mining, processing New Zealand's offshore oil and gas condensates, and processing associated with steel and glass production. At Lake Grassmere in Marlborough, the first solar salt works in the country converts seawater from the mudflats into household and industrial salt through evaporation. Schemes to change natural gas into synthetic petrol are promoted and encouraged by the government, and solar units to heat household water are increasing in popularity as an alternative to electricity.
Tourism is a major part of the New Zealand economy. In fact, it is the top earner of foreign exchange. The New Zealand Tourism Board does an excellent job of developing facilities while maintaining the natural and cultural aspects of the country; the department also promotes New Zealand overseas. The majority of visitors flock across from Australia; however, more and more visitors from North America, Japan, the U.K., Europe, and Taiwan are discovering New Zealand.