Over 14% of the total land area of New Zealand is devoted to agriculture. Capital investment in land improvement and mechanization has contributed greatly to the steady growth in agricultural production without an increase in the farm labor force. About 76,000 tractors and 3,100 combines were in use in 1998. Agriculture contributes about 8% to GDP and 11% of exports in 2001.
Cereal cultivation, more than 90% of which takes place on the South Island plains and downlands, fluctuates in terms of both acreage and size of crop. In 1999, areas harvested to wheat totaled an estimated 53,000 ha (131,000 acres), with a yield of 290,000 tons; 11,000 ha (27,000 acres) yielded 40,000 tons of oats; and 80,000 ha (198,000 acres) yielded 400,000 tons of barley.
New Zealand is largely self-sufficient in horticultural products and exports some of these, such as apples and honey. In 1999, 988,000 tons of fresh fruit (excluding melons) were produced. The kiwi, a fruit that has become popular in the United States, Japan, and elsewhere, represented 90% of horticultural exports. In 1985, New Zealand accounted for more than half the world's supply of kiwi fruit. Since the mid-1980s, New Zealand has lost some of its market share in the production of kiwi, as other countries began or expanded their own domestic kiwi production—by the late 1990s, New Zealand accounted for one-third of world kiwi supply. Due to unfavorable weather, kiwi production in 1999 was estimated at 221,000 tons, down 10% from 1998. In 1999, New Zealand produced 536,000 tons of apples, 57,000 tons of peas, and 170,000 tons of corn. About 70% of apple exports is derived from the Braeburn, Gala, and Royal Gala varieties developed in New Zealand. In 2001, exports of 261,861 tons of apples were valued at $134 million.
The Department of Agriculture and the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research provide farmers and horticulturalists with advice and encouragement on new farming methods, elimination of plant diseases, and improvement of unproductive land. Government subsidies have assisted in improving and bringing under cultivation marginal and hitherto unused scrub land. However, since the mid-1980s there has been a shift in government policy, and many subsidies to agriculture have been removed or phased out.