Women in the food and fibre sector

Women are a critical part of the food and fibre1 workforce.

Just over 100,000 women work in our food and fibre sector, 1/3 of the total workforce.

This proportion has remained fairly constant over recent years but remains lower than the overall proportion of women in the workforce across all New Zealand’s industries.   

Around half (over 51,000) of all women in the food and fibre workforce work within three industry groups: Sheep, Beef, Deer and Wool farming (18%), Support Services (18%), and Dairy farming (15%). These three industry groups represent our biggest workforces overall.


Wahine Māori are well represented in our sector with 16% of the women in the workforce identifying as Māori, similar to that across all industries. However, our industries have fewer women (3%) identifying as Pacific peoples compared to the national workforce (6%).

There are around 15,500 women currently working in the Dairy industry, however, there has been a small decrease in the proportion of women working in this industry.

Strong role models such as Cheyenne Wilson, a young Māori dairy worker from Southland provide inspiration to women choosing Dairy as a career. Among her other achievements, Cheyenne has studied through the Primary ITO and Lincoln University, is as a Graduate Māori Relationship partner with DairyNZ. Cheyenne is now Founder and Managing Director of Te Kaharangi Hono a specialist Māori Agribusiness and whenua Māori consulting firm, a mentor for the Agri-Women's Development Trust Generation Change course and a member of the Muka Tangata Council.

Cheyenne Wilson
Within the food and fibre sector there is significant variation in the proportion of women in the workforce of different industries

Some of our smaller workforces have a higher percentage of women workers. Veterinary services has the highest proportion of women in the workforce (82%) - just over 6,400 women, followed by Equine, Dogs and Racing, Vegetable growing, and Grapes and Wine where women represent just under half of these workforces.


Within specific industries, there is strong growth in the number of women in the workforce. Our data shows that the Onshore Aquaculture workforce has grown rapidly in the last 7 years, with the number of women in this industry increasing by over 200% and the proportion of women in the industry also rising from 36% to 45%. There have also been large increases (up to 80%) in the number of women working in Poultry Meat farming and Landscape Construction Services over this time.

Women are underrepresented in some of our industries. The Forestry industry group has the lowest proportion of women (20%) in its workforce. Within this group only 10% of the logging workforce are women, although our data shows the number of women working in logging has increased by 30% over the last 7 years. While the number of women studying forestry has increased, the proportion has remained relatively stable at 5%.

Women are driving the improvement of skills and level of qualifications within the workforce. Most women in the food and fibre workforce hold a formal qualification (NCEA Level 1 or higher). Of those workers who hold a bachelor's degree or higher, nearly half (48%) are women, which well exceeds the proportion of women in the workforce.


1 The food and fibre sector that Muka Tangata represents is based on ANZSIC codes specified in our Order of Council. This differs to how the Ministry for Primary Industries  defines their food and fibre sector.