Stuff - Tougher economic and environmental conditions cause new dairy farms to slow to a trickle

It's official - throughout the country the rate of converting land to dairy farms has dramatically slowed.

In regions overseen by the Horizons Regional Council (Manawatu-Wanganui), Environment Canterbury and Environment Southland, conversions in the last year have almost totally dried up.

These are the regions that saw the most rapid increase in the numbers of dairy cattle, as farmers moved out of traditional sheep and beef farming.

Figures provided by Horizons and Environment Southland show that over the last five years, conversions hit a high in 2014 as global dairy prices soared.

In the Horizons region, they reached a peak of 24 in 2014, before dropping to 15 in 2015 and by this year they were down to zero.

Dr Nic Peet, Horizons group manager strategy and regulation, said dairy conversions required consent only from 2010 onwards.

"Generally dairy conversions have slowed down. It is important to also note that a significant number of these consents have consisted of one or several paddocks being converted as opposed to whole farms. The proportion of land converted to dairy in our region is really small – in most of our catchments it's less than one per cent of land."

In Southland, conversions were at their highest in 2014 with 35 consents granted but this year they had plummeted to only two.

Canterbury's big growth year was in 2011-12 when 110 new dairy effluent consents were issued; by this year they had dropped to 20.