The Farmer in New Zealand
4 — The Farming Industry
The Farming Industry
Before 1882 New Zealand had two primary exports, wool and wheat, produced by the farmer. After the introduction of refrigeration in 1882, the possibilities were immensely expanded. For not only the frozen meat industry, but the export of dairy produce and fruit also, depended on the perfection of this long-sought-for means of converting the meat surplus of the new countries into the food of the old. Refrigeration effected a revolution in farming in New Zealand, but it was itself only part of the world-wide harnessing of science to industry, including the farming industry, which was altering standards and ways of life everywhere. Refrigeration cannot be separated from the rest of the improvements effected by science in every branch of technology, although the problem it solved was of a quite individual character.
By the eighteen-eighties the industrial type of society England had developed was in its second and third generation. England had led the world not only page 88in its industrial revolution but also in its agricultural counterpart, by which improvements in technique enabled the British farmer to support the quickly expanding urban communities at what was, on the whole, a rising standard of living. But the complex and highly geared organisation of large-scale industry depended more and more on imports of food from the newer countries overseas. Wheat came to Britain from the prairies of America. Meat, however, could not make the same journey on a scale large enough to affect prices (there was a certain amount of transport of live meat across the Atlantic). The high price of meat in England was due to a shortage of supply. The demand was ready. The supply existed in superabundance, but many thousand miles away. The problem that exercised the minds of both scientists in England and farmers in all the colonial countries was to take the meat from where it was an embarrassment to where it was urgently needed. Refrigeration was not achieved by accident. It was the fruit of long and careful research and the untiring efforts of men who sacrificed to it, like Mort in Australia, both the work of a lifetime and their whole private fortunes. From 1869 tinned meat had been exported from New Zealand. From Australia at an earlier date an experiment had been made with the export of boned meat packed in lard, a successful experiment producing an article which gained ground as slowly as tinned meat. Experiments with machines for producing low page 89temperatures had been conducted during the whole of the nineteenth century, but it was not until 1877 that French investigators fitted two ships with a mechanism that kept meat at a low enough temperature for it to survive the voyage from the Argentine to France. This meat was frozen hard, earlier attempts having been to convey it at a 'chilled' temperature. But in spite of this success with the Frigorifique and the Paraguay, the French pioneers, frustrated by the high protection given to French farmers, gave place to men in Australia and New Zealand in the establishment of refrigerated transport as an industry. In 1880 the Strathleven reached England from Queensland with a cargo of frozen meat, and two years later the Dunedin sailed from Port Chalmers carrying with it the first frozen meat shipped from New Zealand. The cargo had been collected thanks to the enterprise and vision of two men—W. S. Davidson, manager for the Australian and New Zealand Land Company (which undertook the venture), and Thomas Brydone, the Company's superintendent in New Zealand, who personally supervised the killing and dressing of the meat. His novel cargo caused Captain Whitson, of the Dunedin, some anxiety, as during the voyage he had to effect repairs to the mechanism for the circulation of air through the freezing chambers. Frozen himself in the main air trunk in the course of this work, he had to be rescued by being dragged out by a rope tied to his legs. The meat sold well in page 90London, and even this pioneer voyage showed a profit. The Albion Company's Dunedin was soon followed by the New Zealand Shipping Company's Mataura, also a sailing ship; thus the two shipping companies most closely associated with the transport overseas of exports from this country were instrumental in beginning the trade which was to have such an important effect on the national economy.
It would be well to glance at the condition of things which refrigeration abolished in New Zealand and the other great farming countries of the world. By 1871 the 233,000 sheep of 1851 had increased to 9,701,000, and were to be over 17,000,000 in 1891 when refrigeration had turned the surplus into a main source of profit. The increase in flocks between the end of the eighteen-fifties and 1881 had been eightfold. In these circumstances it is hardly surprising that the market for store sheep was negligible and that the sinister shadow of the boiling-down works, symbol of waste and the crude attempt to save something from the wreck, cast itself over the land. It is interesting that Samuel Butler in 1860 had projected his nimble mind forward to grapple with this problem of the seventies and eighties. The only remedy he could suggest offhand for the overstocking he conjectured might come about was to convert the meat into portable soup, but it was 'a matter which might well attract the attention of scientific men in England'. Guthrie-Smith in his Tutira describes what page 91a stock-owner actually did with his worn-out ewes no longer worth feeding. He sold them for a few pence each to a neighbour who fed them to his pigs. The return from boiling down a sheep for the sake of its tallow was about one and sixpence. In 1882 the average price of butcher's meat in Great Britain was about 8¾d a pound. Moreover, before the days of refrigeration the market for butter in New Zealand was severely local. A little salted butter was sent away in barrels to Australia, but its quality varied with its makers, and farmers in the more remote districts had small chance of taking part even in this meagre trade.
The introduction of refrigerated transport made the profits from farming more assured than ever before. It was more or less inevitable therefore that able men should turn to farming as a profession, and it was more or less inevitable that they should find the considerable obstacles placed in their way when they sought to get land so intolerable as to need a remedy by political action. The great estates built up during the seventies and eighties were held together not so much by the wealth of their owners as by their poverty. The bigger landowner, especially when his country was more suited to grazing than cropping, had fallen into a decline with the drop in the price of wool. He was in debt to his bank or his stock and station agents, often so hopelessly that he could never hope to extricate himself or his backers, who kept him on, however, because a forced sale would page 92register their loss of capital. Pember Reeves summed up the impasse when he wrote 'Prices would not rise until a good proportion of the land was cut up and settled. The owners could not afford to cut it up till prices rose.' This then was the first legacy of refrigeration, the revolt of the landless. The Liberal governments of the nineties behaved with characteristic vigour, imposing a graduated land tax and then—to hasten matters—introducing the compulsory purchase of large holdings for closer settlement. This policy had its beneficial effects, encouraging more intensive use of the land and allowing land prices to rise. Compulsory purchase was carried on steadily into the twentieth century, though its original leasehold provisions were modified in favour of freehold tenure. The best of the land in the country had been freeholded before 1891, that is before the Liberal government took power and its energetic Minister of Lands, John McKenzie, began the purchase of large estates. The estates that passed through the government's hands in the process of cutting up were let on lease. When, however, the rise in the value of land through the increased productivity stimulated by refrigeration provided a new opportunity for speculation, the men on the land preferred to have the freehold of their properties to be able to market them without restriction. In 1912, with the return to power of the Reform party, which reflected the point of view of the practical farmer, the freehold finally evicted the page 93lease-in-perpetuity. This had been the device of the Liberals to ensure the most socially useful development of the land, intended also to favour the farmer with small capital. New Zealand was for the next twenty years run primarily for the benefit of the farmer. The farmer was the economic backbone of the country during this period. He was also the political power.
It would be ungrateful to the 'squatters', as the large runholders were termed, whatever the origin of their occupations, to regard them purely as brakes on the wheel of progress which none the less turned until it had put many men on farms in place of few. The squatters had been in the forefront of pioneering the introduction of refrigeration. They had advanced the technique of agriculture as well as the techniques governing the distribution of produce overseas. Grigg of Longbeach and Cameron of Springfield, together with the directors of such a large-scale enterprise as the New Zealand and Australian Land Company, had advanced matters in the frozen meat, the wheat-growing and the dairying industries in a way that would hardly have been possible for men with smaller resources behind them. The Company's Edendale dairy factory was very important educationally in the developing dairy industry.
Dairying grew up under the wing of the frozen meat trade, a forgotten Cinderella soon to outstrip its elders, wool and mutton. Even before refrigeration page 94made possible on a vast scale the export of butter to Britain, there had been some organisation of the dairying industry on factory lines. A cheese factory had begun operations on Otago Peninsula as early as 1871. Local farmers had combined on a more or less co-operative basis to work this factory, securing an average of 6d a pound for their cheese. Cheese was considered a more profitable product than butter as late as 1890, when Sawers, a government expert, told an audience that 'he did not think that even 3d a gallon could be expected if butter were made', but cheese-making could not be developed in areas where the farms were scattered, as the collecting centre for milk had to be more accessible than a collecting centre for the lighter weight of cream intended to be manufactured into butter. (This differentiation, of course, followed after the introduction of the centrifugal separator about the turn of the century.) The development of the dairying industry is one of the most striking results of the increasing application of science to industry, including the primary producing industries. Parallel to the new type of sheepfarming, based on a smaller area of good land farmed intensively to produce lambs for fattening, with wool as a secondary receipt, it created a new type of even smaller holding, the eighty acre dairy farm, whose produce was measured in pounds of butter-fat rather than in pounds of wool, or the dead weight of a lamb's carcase.
There were many men who contributed to the development of the dairy industry. One of the most unusual but not the least determined of them was Chew Chong, the Chinese storekeeper who built a butter factory at Eltham in 1887, among the earliest dairy factories established in Taranaki, the most specialised dairying district of New Zealand. Like so many of his race, Chew Chong had been attracted to the southern hemisphere, to Australia at first, by the page 96discovery of gold. In New Zealand he had earned a living as a trader, hitting on a natural export that in thirty years brought over £300,000 to Taranaki settlers—the fungus which could be gathered in the bush fringing most settlements, and which was a table delicacy in China. Chew Chong bought this for cash for the same price—4d a pound—that the local storekeepers gave, in the form of credit, for the settlers' butter. Chew Chong turned his attention to the export of butter during the seventies and eighties, his interest—an expensive interest, since he lost money on several of his shipments and finally a large sum on his dairy factory—being drawn to factory methods of producing butter by the need for a uniform quality if an export trade was to be built up. His efficient proprietary factory was displaced after a few years by the co-operative factories that became such a nearly universal feature of the New Zealand landscape.
The career of Chew Chong bridges the period of transition from pre-refrigeration days to the stirring times that followed its introduction. New Zealand in 1882 was a country of large overstocked grazing runs, with a sprinkling of struggling small farmers near towns—or not always near towns, if we remember the settlements in the bush of which Norsewood and Dannevirke may serve as types. Everywhere, even on the big sheepfarming holdings, efficiency was retarded by distance from markets. The Scandinavians in their special settlements in the seventies were page 97expected to carve forty acre farms from the virgin bush, sustained only by a meagre allowance of soon-accomplished work on the roads. The advancing railway system later supplied them with employment cutting timber for sleepers from the bush, but it was not till dairying and lamb-fattening developed that these groups were able to stand on their own feet with any steadiness. Typical of group settlements, Scandinavian Dannevirke and Norsewood demonstrated once again what had been so often shown by earlier special settlements—the Nova Scotian settlement of 1853 at Waipu, for instance—that farming even for mere self-sufficiency was hopeless without a reasonable chance of marketing produce.
The essential conditions of pioneering, extending even to the same difficulties through isolation in outlying districts, have lasted right down to the present. The North Island was opened up largely during the eighties and later. The railways begun during the Vogel loan boom of the seventies had laid an indispensable foundation for closer settlement whenever that became economically possible, but the Main Trunk railway that was to give access to several of the best districts of the centre of the North Island was not completed until 1908. Edward Wakefield, writing in the late eighties, before refrigeration had yet conjured away the effects of the long slump of that decade, had pointed out that the small man who wanted a farm did not have to wait despairingly for page 98the squatters to disgorge their land. There was a harder road he might travel with a fair prospect of reward at the end. 'It may be said broadly, that any man who chooses to spend three years in breaking in a bush farm in the North Island of New Zealand, having selected his land with reasonable judgment, will have a valuable property under his feet, and one which will make him independent of the world, if he be not encumbered with debt to start with.' Although one rather doubts if many of the bush settlers could have escaped unscathed from the last-mentioned shadow over their efforts, it is at least certain that many turned the heavy forest of the Manawatu, Hawke's Bay, and the King Country into prosperous farms between 1870 and—it may be said—1940. Edward Wakefield himself described the lives of some of these settlers in terms that partly contradict the opinion cited above of the possibilities of breaking in bush. In dairying districts a whole race of farmers existed, plentifully supplied with food, but with very little money, rarely able to make any even by casual labour unless a railway were coming in their direction. These men, in Wakefield's opinion, had to rely on having large families for the chance of making money—a reliance hardly extinct to-day.
There was a regular system for reducing bush to farmland. Under favourable conditions it took three years for the standing bush to be turned into grass, for the majority of bush-farmers wanted grazing page 99rather than arable farms. The first things to do were to inspect widely and select wisely. The type of bush on the property was a good indication not only of the quality of the land but also of the degree of trouble likely to be encountered in felling and burning the block. Tawa land was on the whole the best. White pine and pukatea denoted even better soil, but these trees were more difficult to burn off. Rimu was to be avoided. The bush was then felled, or 'falled'. In felling it had to be borne in mind that a large fire was needed to get as clean a burn as possible. Some men cut the small timber only, leaving trees over three feet in diameter, the derelicts later proving a nuisance. Others cleared everything. If this work were done by contract, it cost, last century, from 18s to 45s an acre, according to the size and type of the timber on the place. Underscrubbing—cutting out the smallest creepers and supplejacks—had to be done with meticulous care. Felling was best done in November or December to leave at least six weeks between falling the timber and carrying out the burn, the most critical operation in the series.
The burn was generally considered best done in March, for it was desirable to have at least a fortnight's continuous fine weather to dry up the fallen bushes and timber—some practical men said a minimum of three weeks, even more difficult to obtain. The day for a burn should 'blow like a steam-power bellows'; the dead mass of vegetation had to be fired page 100as evenly as possible as soon as the dew had dried off it; a torch made of splinters or a piece of pumice dipped in oil with a wire handle proved useful for the purpose. Some said, light the fire on the windward side; others, more cautious, preferred to light up on the lee side, so that the fire never really gathered too much speed. Caution was needed indeed when the block being burned marched with land already broken in, which had fences and buildings on it. The burn was carefully supervised, however. Some men liked to keep belts of bush for shelter, but it was difficult to manage this if the burn proved unruly, unless a wide balk were ploughed round the chosen groves beforehand. Many thought it better to grow pines and macrocarpa afterwards; there was the added inducement that they 'tend to beautify the place'.
After the burn the well-advised farmer cleared tracks among the charred stumps for ease in getting about. Then the grass was sown broadcast on the blackened surface. The basic element in the mixture recommended was perennial rye, with cocksfoot and Italian rye in lesser amount and a small amount each of white clover, alsike, and timothy. Good seed was of such prime importance—since the farmer would be committed to his first sown sward for a number of years, and would have to plough to alter it—that if possible he should buy the right to harvest personally the seed he intended to use.
Land might be bought in the Woodville district page 101(where an interesting pamphlet on bush-farming was published in 1891) for 25s an acre. Five hundred acres, felled, burned, grassed, and fenced, cost, including the building of a house, about £5 an acre. Another estimate for 300 acres gave approximately £3 an acre, for the cost of the farm, fences, buildings, and stock. Plainly the cost must have varied very considerably with the type of bush being broken in and the degree of thoroughness demanded by the new owner. In the Dominion of 10 October 1939, a farmer estimated that the cost of bringing bush land in the Upper Wangaehu valley into production had risen to £7 an acre to-day, without reckoning the cost of fencing and buildings, or of the land. The farmer had, of course, to keep himself during the period of breaking in his property, another considerable addition to the budget. The commentator of 1939, a man who had himself taken up 13,000 acres of bush in the nineties, agreed with the Woodville farmers of 1891 in believing the task of bush-farming a heavy one. The three years from bush to grass was evidently an optimistic estimate, for one writer in the Woodville pamphlet said the bush farmer would be fully occupied getting established for his first four or five years and would have no time for digging and grubbing. Another said that 'ten years from starting he will be practically over the shoals of trouble', while a particularly candid, though successful, bush-farmer was even more explicit: 'The Bush Farmer's prospect for the first few page 102years of his occupation is nothing but heavy expenditure, hard work, excessive and interminable patience. Compared with the outlay of money, talent and labour, the returns are so small that they test the endurance of a man to the utmost limit.' But there were rewards, not exclusively material. One bush farmer exclaimed 'If a man does not make his home a paradise on earth it is his own fault', for 'everything around is ready to bow to his will—plants, animals and birds'.
Most bush farms were first stocked with sheep in an effort to get the quickest return. This worked well on good flat country not cursed with swampy or porous soil. But in many districts it was better, if the long-term interests of the land itself were properly considered, to stock with cattle, which 'consolidate the country and promote the growth of grass'.
The key to the obvious disparity between the very high estimates of the cost of breaking in forest land made by the early settlers (Dillon had put it at £30 an acre) and the estimates of the nineties lies in the change in the method of farming. The early settlers wanted the land stumped and ploughable. The later generation of bush farmers merely wanted the land grassed and did not mind a considerable number of big logs being left on the ground. They stumped a small area near the homestead for a vegetable garden, but any attempt to dig and grub was, as we have seen above, postponed. There was never any attempt, at least at page 103first, to imitate the arable farming of the early settlers, as the bush farmer could not possibly compete on equal terms with the open land farmer.
This process of pioneering bush land goes on into the present, on the fringes of more easily worked or less remote districts. Even the pumice lands of the high centre of the North Island have been successfully brought into production, as may be learned from E. Earle Vaile's Pioneering the Pumice (1939), the account of the strenuous breaking in since 1908 of a tract of over fifty thousand acres, which was, however, nearly all ploughable once it had been burned off. Vaile's experience leads him to recommend cutting the scrub, burning off, sowing with rough grasses, and then leaving land so treated for three years. A heavy girder harrow passed over the land, with the specially concerted removal of any remaining stumps and any large lumps of pumice, prepared the ground for the plough. Heavy crops of turnips could then be grown, and the growth of grass, sown as a permanent pasture after the first cropping with turnips, was phenomenal. This heroic and fortunate enterprise shows the possibilities of a type of country previously written off as desert and has led to increased settlement of pumice areas, which suffer, however, from their remoteness from the transport system of the Dominion, as well as from a stock disease known as bush sickness, successfully combated now by a page 104'lick', discovered by the research of experts of the Department of Agriculture.
This survival of pioneering conditions into the present has strongly coloured New Zealand rural society. The advance of science and the greater diversification of produce have promoted more intensive use of the accessible, long-settled land. Then swamps have been drained and dry land irrigated to bring land into production. There is still ample scope for the farmer with a zest for initiating the conquest of the wild; the means at his disposal, thanks to improved implements and transport, are encouragingly greater to-day than they were for an earlier generation which went into the bush with the self-dedication almost of missionaries going into the jungle. New Zealand evidently has still some surplus of energy and initiative left over after dealing with the ordinary tasks of farming that has fallen into a routine.
Few farmers to-day would cheerfully stomach the word 'routine' as a label for their activities, and it is in fact only relatively accurate. One of the most striking features of modern New Zealand farming is its flexibility, and the readiness to 'try anything once' or to 'give it a buck' when some innovation swims into its ken or when a fluctuation of the market suggests a change. (The French economist, Siegfried, noticed this quality about 1900, and called it, more gracefully, the 'empiricism' of the New Zealanders.) Steadily rising prices for export fat stock will encourage page 105the diversion of land from wheat to fattening crops; falling prices promote a reversal of the process.* Many farmers a few years ago changed from dairying to sheep; some whose mortgage conditions bound them to keep a stated number of cows on their farm (for 'property' is here hardly the appropriate word) were barred from making the change. Then too farming practice is influenced by fashion, particularly in the choice of breeds of stock, but this is hardly a reproach when it is remembered that even stocks and shares sometimes enjoy a vogue for largely irrational reasons.
* Dr Hilgendorf in Wheat in New Zealand (Christchurch, 1939) has published an interesting graph showing the effect on Canterbury's wheat acreage of autumn fat stock prices.
Sheepfarming and raising cattle for beef have been tremendously expanded since the introduction of refrigeration. The thirty-eight freezing works (including three recently installed specially to handle pork) are distributed to serve local needs, and few farmers have now to submit to the inconvenience and expense of long droving of their animals to reach the works, though often they will need to send them by railway trucks. The motor truck provides a convenient means of taking small drafts of sheep to the works. The fattening of stock has induced new methods of pasture management and the increased growing of clovers and lucernes. The taste of the English consumer has dictated a fall in the weight of lamb carcasses exported. Lamb that matures quickly is now an important point in the breeding of sheep. Wool has by no means sunk into a secondary place. It is second only to butter as the most valuable single export. Sheep and cattle page 108farming methods have changed less than dairying, but both have become more intensive. The North Island, besides having the major dairying areas, now has more sheep than the South Island and more sheep to the acre.
Since 1882 science has increasingly come to the aid of the New Zealand farmer. Dairying has specially benefited. The Babcock test for butter-fat content, which began to be used here in 1892, introduced a standard of quality on which payments could be made by dairy factories to their suppliers, though the grade of milk is now taken into account in addition. About the turn of the century the centrifugal separator made its appearance, bringing a great saving in transport and labour. The smooth steady pulsation of the milking machine, accompanied by the lively throb of the oil engine, changed and shortened the long silent hours of hand milking of the past. Electric power, as it became widely available, replaced the oil engine. All these applications of power to the work of the farm replaced labour and enlarged the earning power of the family farm unit. The factories have increased the moisture content of butter to sixteen per cent, resulting in increased payments to dairy suppliers. Herd-testing is the sole reliable method of telling the value of each cow in a herd, for it was proved quite early by experiment that farmers could not pick the animals most productive of butter-fat in their own herds with anything approaching scientific accuracy.page 109
Then the remarkable development of top-dressing grass has benefited the dairy industry more even than it has the sheepfarmer fattening his lambs. Top-dressing has replaced the fodder crop on many dairy farms, greatly reducing labour. The sheepfarmer on first-class land can top-dress with artificial fertilisers, particularly superphosphate, instead of ploughing and re-sowing his pasture every few years. Farmers on all types of holding have benefited enormously from the general improvement of internal communications effected by the motor car. Mechanised agriculture has brought easier transport from farm to dairy factory, as well as the saving of labour by the use of tractors in farm operations. The wide availability of electricity that has come about in the last twenty years has also brought in machine shearing. Even before public supply of electricity reached them, many farmers had their individual plants. Research in refrigeration has led to a great diversification of exports, most important among the new exports being chilled beef, first carried to London in 1933 on board the Port Fairy. Beef that has been chilled is much more palatable than frozen beef, but chilled beef keeps fresh only for a limited period. Thus only the fastest ships on the Panama Canal route can carry chilled beef, but New Zealand's share in this trade, originally exclusively in the hands of the Argentine, is growing steadily. The use of carbon dioxide gas in the freezing chambers has made possible the improved carriage of other page 110produce besides chilled beef—eggs, apples, pears. Research has even been able to differentiate between the keeping qualities of apples according to the soils in which the trees are grown, phosphates and potash favouring long keeping in contrast with nitrate-supplied soils.
The state has increasingly taken part in research on behalf of the farming industries of the Dominion. Up to 1920 the development of dairying, for instance, had been largely practical, but the need for greater research began to be felt by the farmers themselves. In 1921 the New Zealand Co-operative Dairy Company (the largest dairy organisation in the country, operating nineteen butter and seventeen cheese factories) established a laboratory at Hamilton. The Federation of Taranaki Co-operative Dairy Factories in 1925 set up another laboratory at Hawera, with the assistance of a subsidy from the government. Shortly afterwards the Dairy Research Institute was founded at Palmerston North in association with Massey Agricultural College. Lincoln College* had long been a centre of general agricultural research. The Wheat Research Institute, financed by the government, the wheat-growers, millers and bakers, is another important research institution devoted to the problems of the wheat-growing industry. The Cawthron Institute has carried out valuable research into the control of insect pests and the special needs of the fruit industry.
* Canterbury Agricultural College, Lincoln.
Both the Chemistry and the Veterinary Divisions of the Department of Agriculture have in recent years been more and more in the forefront of agricultural research, the latter Division largely controlling the laboratory at Wallaceville. The Department of Scientific and Industrial Research shares with the Department of Agriculture the many tasks that await the research worker helping the farmer to overcome the problems that never fail to crop up in practice. Research in every subject from plant breeding to soil survey has greatly helped the farmer in the past, and its results are quickly publicised by the Department of Agriculture, which has brought to a high state of efficiency the agricultural education, not only of the farmer-to-be, but also of the farmer already at work for better or worse on the holding that inheritance or purchase has given him.
The increasing certainty of the returns from farming has had a buoyant effect on land values. This increase in the price of land has in itself forced a greater efficiency on the farmer whether he likes it or not. Science has put at his disposal machinery and techniques that greatly reduce the physical labour of his work, but just as 'modern conveniences' form an ever greater and greater proportion of the cost of a house, so every improvement has added to the amount of capital the farmer has to have at his command. The credit structure—for few purchasers of farm property at modern prices can put down the whole page 112price of a holding in cash—has been elaborated to the point where the farmer is hardly even allowed to manage his own farm according to his own ideas, so firm a grip on him have his creditors. The state is not the least benevolent of the agencies lending money on the security of farm property. When the prices of farm produce fall sharply, as they did in the world slump of the early nineteen-thirties, the farmer is hard put to it to fulfil his obligations, and his only resource seems to him to lie in a desperate attempt to increase production, for this was what happened in the slump. The price of land is high in New Zealand; so too are wages. It is sometimes puzzling to the outside world just how our farming budgets are balanced. The answer lies in the very high volume of per unit production, made possible largely by two factors: first, the natural advantage of being able to run stock out of doors all the year round on grass that grows throughout the year; second, the early use of every scientific improvement and modern labour-saving device that comes into existence. Evidence for the value of science to the farmer is implicit in the increasing yield per cow in butter-fat. In the 1919-20 season the yield per cow was only 152 pounds butter-fat; but ten years later the yield had risen to 218 pounds, and has remained at substantially this level, or a little higher, with only seasonal variation.
The importance of farming exports to New Zealand, besides the fact that the whole financial structure page 113of the country is based on the prices obtained for them, as well as the increasing concern of governments everywhere with economic problems, has inevitably led to growing intervention by the state in the marketing of produce. The first active intervention became necessary during the 1914-18 war, and the new conflict has seen a similar taking over of the responsibility for disposing of the major items of New Zealand produce, the Imperial government again being the universal purchaser. But state control of marketing has, in the period between the two wars, become part of ordinary policy. The Meat Export Control Act 1921-22 set up a board to control the export of meat in the interests of the producers. The board was instrumental in reducing freight rates, and regulated the seasonal shipment of meat to the British market, besides engaging in valuable advertising campaigns. The Dairy-produce Control Act 1923 set up the Dairy Control Board which, until 1936, engaged in supervising the marketing of butter and cheese overseas. It has now been superseded by direct state control under the Minister of Marketing in accordance with the provisions of the Primary Produce Marketing Act 1936. This Act originated the principle of the guaranteed price, which may be summarised as the principle of a state guarantee of a definite price each season to dairy farmers for their butter and cheese and the taking over by the state of the responsibility for marketing these products page 114overseas. Wool, except in time of war, has always been sold without state intervention. The state has subsidised the export of apples and pears by means of a minimum guaranteed price.
The most important of these state interventions in marketing is the guaranteed price for dairy produce. It has behind it the whole history of the slump, when export prices fell about forty per cent, as it affected the major industry—from the point of view of the number of producers engaged in it—of the Dominion. Mortgage legislation had helped the small farmer to weather the storm of falling prices, but there was a general feeling among dairy farmers—indeed among all farmers—that the return for their services in terms of standards of living as compared with other sections of the community was scarcely adequate. Land prices remained high. Costs, particularly wage costs, had increased. Prices, however, though there had been post-slump recovery, were much the same. The guaranteed price took into account the obligations the farmer had to meet, and what might be considered a fair return for his labour. The immediate benefit of the guaranteed price was a sense of greater stability. One of its first critics, an American visitor, the sociologist Edmund de S. Brunner, commented on the difficulty of fixing the real costs of farmers, but his main objection was that the guaranteed price must tend to rise. Any benefit from the price itself is likely to be capitalised in land values and the prices of cows.page 115
These items are again translated into costs for the purpose of calculating annually what shall be the guaranteed price, and thus raise it. But with the increase in the control by the state of the whole economic structure of dairying and all farming industries, Brunner's objections become less tenable. It is important to remember, however, that in the early stages of the modern development of farming in this country, between 1893 and 1910, there was a lag in the rise of the prices of manufactured goods as compared with the rise in the prices of farm products. This movement would have placed the farmer in a favoured position, if it had not been for the fact that these good prices and low costs were always capitalised in high land values.
The paramount economic importance of the farming industries to New Zealand makes it impossible for the state to leave their welfare to chance, hope and the satisfaction of political prejudices. The farmer is New Zealand, so far as the outside world is concerned (except in time of war, when New Zealand is also effectively represented by soldiers, sailors, and airmen). New Zealand is the world's largest exporter of mutton and lamb and also of cheese. In 1938 this country was second only to Denmark as an exporter of butter and indeed exported more butter to Britain than any other country. Apart from gold and timber, which are exported on a small scale, practically the whole export trade of New Zealand is in farm page 116produce. Although New Zealanders have probably the highest standard of living in the world in regard to the consumption of food, the country consumes less than twenty per cent of the food it produces. The farmer, in fact, pays for all imports and foots the bill for interest on New Zealand's overseas debt. On his productivity and the continued desire of Britain to buy his produce depend our place in the world. Three factors may adversely affect the farmer's position and so that of New Zealand: increasing competition from the British farmer, favoured by tariffs and quotas; the declining and aging population of Britain; and the tendency of our own population to become static.
Our dependence on the sale to one customer of a fairly restricted range of agricultural produce is naturally a matter that has already received earnest attention. Wool alone is sold on a truly international market, but our best customer is again Britain. New markets have been sought, and more products have been exported. A little butter has been sold to China. Apples have gone to Canada and to the Continent. The seeking of new markets for our main products has been interrupted by war, but the war has brought at least one new industry to this country—the growing, at the request of the British Government, of linen flax for the manufacture of aeroplane fabric. The earliest settlers had successfully grown linen flax. Now nearly one hundred years later it is being grown page 117again. A linseed oil industry is likely to be developed as an ancillary to the production of linen.
Many important small farming industries depend almost entirely on a local market. About two-fifths of the apple and pear crop was exported, until in 1939 the shipping space was required for war purposes. Stone fruits, small fruits, and citrus fruits are practically entirely absorbed by the local market. The Dominion acreage of commercial orchards exceeds 21,000 acres. The tobacco crop is locally consumed, though an export trade has been begun. Hops provide a small surplus for export. Grass seed and a portion of the pea crop are small but steady exports. Though poultry farming is essentially a local industry, eggs are being exported in shell. Honey from the clover lands of the dairying districts is a growing export. Pork is being increasingly exported, and it is probable that the number of pigs raised will increase, since pigs may so readily be kept in conjunction with dairy cows. New Zealand has not reached the same position as Denmark in the running of pigs and dairy cattle on the same farms.
The wheat industry is probably the most important that exists entirely on a local market. Wheat-growing is now confined almost entirely to Canterbury and northern Otago. The main reason for the decline of wheat from the days of the export boom last century was the vanishing Australian market. Also stock farming had become much more profitable, and good page 118wheat country was also good fattening country. Bushel yields per acre are very high, attesting the fertility of New Zealand's wheat lands. Oats are also extensively grown for horse fodder. The greater part of all crops raised in the country are, however, raised for farm consumption. Still by far the most valuable of all local crops is grass.
Perhaps the best customer for the local oat crops, as well as for most of the hay that is actually sold, is the racing industry. The breeding of thoroughbred horses for racing or trotting, and the parallel business of training them, are important activities in a country so fond of racing as New Zealand. New Zealand has more racing and trotting courses for its population than any other country, a fact just as symbolical of the decentralised character and vigorous local feeling of the New Zealand community as the wide distribution of dairy factories. The breeding of pedigree stock is another important branch of farming, the pure-bred flocks and herds continually replenishing the strength of the rank and file of stock on the farms of the Dominion.
It is in market gardening alone that the native-born New Zealander sensibly feels the competition on his own ground of an outsider, though the industrious Chinese who dominate the main production in this industry are so well-recognised a feature of the scene as almost to have lost their foreignness. The European market gardener has, however, his place in what is page 119on the whole a profitable field for effort, particularly in tomato-growing. The increasing prosperity of market gardening depends on the urbanisation of New Zealand. But in both town and country it is still the hobby of most New Zealanders to grow their own vegetables. The potato crop alone has export prospects.
The basis of modern New Zealand farming is the family farm of ninety to one hundred acres, probably devoted to dairying. In the eighteen-forties the high wages in the new colony had already decided many proprietors who had planned to develop arable farms to let them on lease or otherwise reduce their area. The small family farm replaced them, but for many years it provided only a precarious subsistence. With the development of dairying and fattening on first-class land the family farm has really come into its own. If the farmer can find his labour in his own family he has a good basis for prosperity, though it is arguable that the younger members of dairying families are too much exploited by the regime of perpetual milkings to which their parents have bound themselves. The more intense development of the North Island has resulted in a most significant population shift. The old pre-eminence of the South has given place to a two to one majority in favour of the North Island, while in the North Island itself there has been a northward movement of population. With the greater improvement in roads and transport generally, page 120rural life has acquired much more amenity; it has, in fact, become urbanised to a remarkable degree, the conveniences of the town being very generally available to the country. There is still, however, the distinctive task for the farmer, in accomplishing which he cannot be spoon-fed. He is still at the mercy of his climate and environment, still faced with the same responsibilities for beast or crop, the same need for the use of his individual skill and judgment.