• $12.4b
    Export Revenue for year ending - March 2023
  • 22%
    Contribution to total export revenue in the food and fibre sector year ending March 2023
  • $3.5 b
    Contribution to GDP of Sheep & Beef Farming and Wool Wholesaling in 2022-2023
  • 51,905
    Individuals worked in Sheep, Beef and Deer farming across 2021


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 country.

Export revenue for meat and wool was over $12 billion as at March 2023. In 2021, we counted 51,095 people in the workforce, making it the largest workforce grouping in the food and fibre sector, after the Support Services group. Māori contribution to the economy is significant, with an estimated 11% of businesses in Sheep, Beef and Deer farming being Māori owned, and 18% of employees being Māori. In the Shearing Services industry, this number is significantly higher, with Māori making up 66% 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. Export revenue for meat and wool increased by 19% between 2021-2022 to $12.3 billion but is forecast to decrease to $11.9 billion for the year ending June 2023.

The wider Sheep, Beef and Deer industry group 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 industries. 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.

Find out about our work to assess the quality of programmes delivered by providers for this industry here.

2025 Investment Advice

Muka Tangata provides advice to TEC on investment in vocational education to influence funding decisions that considers industry needs, to help match skills and workforce demands with supply.

Learn more


We highlight the current key priorities and opportunities for each industry. 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.