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The Vegetation of New Zealand



New Zealand with its various soils and climates is admirably adapted for different branches of agriculture and horticulture. A full account of how the virgin plant-associations have been displaced or utilized during the past 77 years, and made to yield in exports of agricultural produce a sum of nearly fifty-two million pounds sterling in 1925 would be full of interest, but lie far beyond the limits or scope of this chapter.

Primarily, the phytogeographical character of the region has directed the progress of agriculture, forcing it into certain channels. Thus, first of all, apart from the work of the early missionaries and their converts in the far north, the extensive tussock-grassland provided fair pasturage, so that the first progress was in the direction of sheep-farming upon a large page 373scale without in the least attempting to "improve" the land. On the other hand, the dense rain-forests, quite unlike anything the European settler had been accustomed to, seemed to offer an insuperable barrier to agricultural advance. But, with increase of population, and, before all else, with the practical application of certain scientific discoveries, the markets of the world have been brought, as it were, to the very door of the most distant lands, so that from the end of the eighties, in the case of New Zealand, agriculture has advanced by leaps and bounds. No longer did wool form the mainstay of the industry but the production, first of meat, and later of dairy produce, became of prime importance. The small farm, which hitherto had provided a scanty livelihood, became a paying concern, the demand for land increased and still increases, so that such thought to be of no value, or impossible to "reclaim", now yields an abundant harvest, while, above all, certain forest-lands have been converted, at but little cost, into the richest of dairy-farms. Another formation that possessed great agricultural capabilities was the swamp, and this early on through drainage, ploughing and sowing with meadow-grasses, was transformed into pasture quite foreign to the soil. Some swamps, however, were too vast for private enterprise to deal with, but even these are now being subdued by aid of the State. So it comes about that only certain plant-formations remain comparatively undisturbed, especially Leptospermum shrubland, forests too far distant or in too wet a climate for profitable occupation, much of the dune-area and the herb-field of the Southern Alps. But all these, too, are being slowly occupied, so that the time is not far distant when the whole of New Zealand, save the most inhospitable and rugged portions, together with the National Parks and similar reserves, will be subservient to the will of man.

The land now being utilized for agricultural purposes falls into the two main classes of arable and grassland, while this latter must be subdivided into natural and artificial pasture. The last-named, again, comes into the two categories of ploughed and unploughed. Speaking phytogeographically, the arable land and ploughed grassland represent primeval swamp, alluvial tussock-grassland, lowland hillside, tussock-grassland and to some extent forest and even heath, while the unploughed grassland is, for the greater part, rain-forest converted into pasture by the method described in the last chapter. The natural pastures represent the original tussock-grassland at all altitudes now considerably modified by the reduction in number of certain indigenous species, the increase of others and the presence of many foreign plants especially Hypochoeris radicata and Rumex Acetosella.

The following statistics for the season 1926–27, most kindly supplied for this book by Mr. Malcolm Fraser (Government Statistician), give at a glance detailed information as to the crops grown the area occupied and their yield when such can be stated.

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Crop Area Yield Yield in Quintals
Acres Hectares Unit of Quantity Quantity
Wheat 220 083 89 063 Bushel 7 952 442 2164 282
Oats 117 326 47 479 . 4 997 535 906 730
Barley 29 886 12 094 " 1243 333 281981
Maize 10 249 4148 " 491468 133 755
Peas & beans 15 495 6 271 " 454 722 123 754
Rye-grass 42 082 17 030 lb. 18 083120 82 023
Cocksfoot 9 820 3 974 lb. 1358 082 6160
Chewings fescue 9634 3899 lb. 2177125 9875
Red clover and cow-grass. 8 540 3 456 lb. 1935 328 8 778
White clover 4 029 1630 lb. 671828 3047
Potatoes 24616 9 962 tons 116 771 118 644 tonnes
Turnips 462 360 187108
Mangolds 11870 4 804
Pasture grasses 16 680 348 6 750 198
Area under cultivation 18 830 436 7 620 295
Area in occupation 43 587 698 17 639 057

Production figures for butter and cheese are not available for the year 1926-27. For the previous year the production of butter was 1544 722 cwt. (78 475 tonnes), and of cheese 1 520 169 cwt. (77 228 tonnes).

Live-stock figures for 1927 (sheep at 30th April, others at 31st January), are:—horses 303 713; cattle 3 257 729; dairy cows 1303 225; sheep 25 649016 pigs 520143.