A solid season for production in the dairy and meat sectors was not enough to prevent a fall in overall primary sector earnings in the first quarter of 2012, according to figures out today.

The Ministry for Primary Industries today released a combined primary industry quarterly report, made up of statistics for dairy, meat and wool, forestry and seafood.

Good pasture growth during the March quarter helped farmers achieve near-record carcass weights and an 11.5 per cent increase in milk solids' production, compared with the same quarter last year, the report said.

But the strong New Zealand dollar and easing international dairy prices saw overall primary sector export revenue for the first quarter fall 2.4 per cent on the previous year. Total revenue was $8.3 billion, compared to $8.5 billion last year.


On a more positive note, when looking at the year to March 2012, total export revenue was up 6.2 per cent on the previous year, from $30.4 billion to $32.3 billion.

Seafood had a good quarter, with export revenue and volumes up 9.4 per cent to $388 million, spurred on by an increase in prices and volume.

Forestry had its second highest quarter on record, despite export revenue dropping 14 per cent to $954 million. A higher-than-usual amount of logs stored at Chinese ports led to depressed export prices during the quarter and an easing in the total number of logs exported.

Dairy export revenue plateaued at $3.8 billion, a result of the New Zealand dollar's strength against the greenback and the dip in international dairy prices.

For the year to March, dairy export revenue was up 8.9 per cent to $13.9 billion.

Beef, veal and lamb exports all increased by volume in the first quarter but slid in value to $1.4 billion.

Total wool export revenues increased 4 per cent to $254 million, up from $244 million in the same quarter last year.

Horticulture exports declined 6.7 per cent in the March quarter from $642 million to $599 million, mainly to lower vegetable exports.

Overall, primary sector exports accounted for 71 per cent of all merchandise exports in the year to March 2012.