The Government is giving a North Island sheep milk company nearly $8 million to help boost production.
Spring Sheep Milk Company, which has multiple farms in the central North Island, has announced a $20m programme to take the dairy sheep industry from the piloting phase through to an established primary industry.
The Government investment is coming via the Sustainable Food and Fibre Futures fund.
Spring Sheep Milk Company chief executive Nick Hammond said globally, the premium alternative dairy category is growing by about 20 per cent a year, so it makes sense to grow the sector here.
"Globally, it's a multi-billion dollar industry in a lot of dairy countries, and we've never been able to get it off the ground fully in New Zealand," he said.
"Very recently, we've been able to establish a breed of sheep that produces significant amounts of milk, which has made it economically viable for our farmers.
"We've also seen huge demand in the market. So, when we look at scaling the industry, we look at a few key things around the capability we need at a farming level, around having enough processing that you put the milk through, and very importantly, also making sure we have compelling products going into sustainable markets."
The programme will see the company expand into the Taranaki region, alongside Spring Sheep's regional partners, Parininihi ki Waitotara (PKW).
Hammond said they want more than 10,000 dairy sheep in the region within five years, producing 750,000 kilograms of milk solids annually.
Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor said the money was a valuable investment in New Zealand's dairy future.
"This potential industry could be worth more than $750 million in annual export receipts by 2035, which means good things for our farmers and our economic security.
"Global growth is fuelled by macro health and wellness consumer trends. This includes Spring Sheep's current offerings of an early life nutrition range, including toddler milk drinks, and specialty milk powders made with sheep milk.
"A number of R&D projects are planned for Waikato, Canterbury, Taranaki, and Wairarapa to improve industry understanding of sheep milk and refine best-practice standards across the sector."
An industry training module would also be established to upskill workers to work in the industry, O'Connor said.