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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 8, Issue 2 (June 1, 1933)

Small Farms to the Rescue — Hopeful Outlook for New Zealand

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Small Farms to the Rescue
Hopeful Outlook for New Zealand

The small-farms plan should bring the right type of unemployed man to the right type of unemployed land or to land that is not adequately employed. We have the right men—plenty of them; we have the right land—plenty of it; we have money, but not as much as we should like.

The Line of Least Risk.

New zealand has to work along the line of least risk and greatest hope with a policy for a satisfactory placing of surplus population—and that line lies mainly on the land. Nature has given these islands very favourable factors for successful farming—and the task to-day is to arrange the best possible working alliance between Nature and man. This ideal can be achieved, in good time, for increasing numbers of families by small-farms settlement.

A Necessary Glance Backward.

Before going into details of further settlement upon small farms, it is well to look backward on New Zealand's economic evolution. The welfare of the country is broadly based on grassland farming, which the refrigerator—facilitating the export of perishable produce to far-distant markets—has largely promoted. During a long period of years, particularly since the invention of the refrigerator, New Zealand has devoted increasing amounts of capital and energy to the development of farming.

Necessarily associated with that expansion of farming was the progressive policy of public works (State and Local)—railways, roads, harbours, electric power, and so on—which called for the raising of many millions of money, chiefly loans from London.

Simultaneously, with a large investment of public money, directly and indirectly, in connection with land settlement, private capital is also largely involved. Altogether, the whole financial and commercial life of the country has become intimately bound up with the farming industries.

Obligations Overseas.

How does New Zealand pay interest on the loans of the State and Local Bodies, raised overseas, and dividends on capital supplied from other countries? The payment is almost wholly made with farm produce, which constitutes about 95 per cent. of the Dominion's exports. At present New Zealand's farming industries are required to maintain a large volume of production, with a lower proportion of overhead costs.

Old Avenues Narrowed.

In regard to the development of farming and public works, attention has to be given to the many thousands of men, employed year by year in the past, directly or indirectly, as the result of the big public works programmes of the State and Local Bodies. The provision of main highways, railways, and hydro-electric works is nearly complete. There will not be much fresh enterprise in harbour works, apart from the main ports. The City Councils and the prinicipal Borough Councils have mainly finished their schemes of tramways, water-supply, sewage and other municipal needs and amenities, on which many millions of loan money have been expended. The great majority of commercial and manufacturing firms have completed their building schemes. Accordingly, many avenues of employment—formerly very wide—are very narrow to-day, and a readjustment is necessary to absorb the surplus population.

New Zealand Faces a New Era.

Briefly, it has been shown that New Zealand has practically completed one cycle of development, and now faces a new era—the era which page 6 will be specially marked by the one-family farm movement. Ivan the Terrible, invoking death as his ally, took a short cut with surplus folk, but happily New Zealand is not Old Russia. With extended settlement on small farms thousands of men now carried by the public (through the State and charitable organisations) will bear the weight of themselves and their families and a fair share of the national burden.

Scope for 50,000 Families.

Even if the average size of a farm—to maintain fully man and family—had to be fifty acres, the right use of only a portion of the land that could be made available for this purpose could accommodate 50,000 families. But in many cases a smaller area than fifty acres would be sufficient for a family.

Types of Settlement.

The placing of more men on the land can be achieved in three ways:—

(1) By farmers actually increasing the number of employees.

(2) By the establishment of families on large areas;

(3) By the establishment of families on small holdings from which they can at least earn their livelihood.

Actual records show that even in prosperous times farmers do not increase their employees materially. It therefore appears that the only way to raise effectively the rural population is by the establishment of families on land which they work themselves.

Where the State has to find the finance, individual settlement on an extensive scale on large areas cannot be considered at present. Settlement is therefore thrown back to the establishment of families on small areas.

Types of Small Holdings.

One-family holdings may be classified in three groups:—

1. Small holdings potentially incapable of providing the whole of the livelihood of the family, and where the earnings from the land must be permanently supplemented by at least partial employment by individuals, or by assistance from the State, or by both in varying degree.

2. Small holdings potentially capable of providing the livelihood of families, but entailing expenditure by the State which may never be recoverable from the earnings of settlers from the holdings themselves.

3. Small holdings potentially capable of providing the livelihood of families and finally meeting all expenditure incurred by the State, provided the price level of primary products tends to rise.

Self-supporting Family Farms.

Naturally, the self-supporting farm is the most desirable system, if adequate finance is available for the establishment of suitable settlers. It is well to bear in mind that the one-family farm is a feature of all agricultural countries that have been forced by circumstances into some measure of self-reliance.

The results of the ten-acre scheme—about 500 holdings, up to the present—indicate satisfactory prospects for its extension into the self-supporting farm where the size is not based on acreage but on the ability of the land to support the family on a reasonably good standard of living, immeasurably preferable to the conditions of unemployed men and their families in the towns.

Cost of Establishment.

Cost, of necessity, has to be a first consideration in any settlement policy. The self-supporting small farm can be financed at an expenditure of not more than £700, even where the whole of the land has to be developed from a virgin condition. Where suitable developed land can be obtained on a leasehold basis, the capital expenditure can be very much less.

If it is assumed, however, that £700 capitalisation is necessary to establish a one-family farm, this would mean about 1,400 families per million pounds of capital expenditure. Even if it happened that interest on such money would have to be found by the State for a few years—and there really should be no need for this—such expenditure would appear to be far preferable to the alternative—an enormous number of families remaining with no future, except, perhaps, complete dependence on the State.

Plenty of Willing Hands.

The experience of the past nine months has shown that large numbers of unemployed men are eager to go on the land, with a fair and square opportunity to make homes for themselves and their families. Their purpose is not to become large farmers in the future, but to become independent of State aid. Their ideal is to win their way to the position of free settlers in the best sense of the word free—free from debt, free from fear, free from worry.

Avoiding Heavy “Overhead” Burdens.

The sturdy men who are now anxious to find a place on the land are anxious to get holdings with a minimum of liabilities. They prefer to begin in a comparatively small way and grow gradually and safely, instead of starting in a large way and shrinking under a heavy pressure of overhead costs. They recognise that a living can be made from a small farm—and after all, it is the living that matters. Naturally, this conception enlarges enormously the number that can be accommodated on the land, to the advantage of themselves and the Dominion as a whole.

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Government's Helping Hand.

Of course, at this stage, however great may be the admirable spirit of self-reliance animating the intending settlers, they must be helped at the outset. The Government's plan is to supply the unemployed family with land; to provide a home and all necessary equipment, to make the land productive; and to give sustenance up to £1 a week until the returns from the land obviate the need of such assistance. Finally, when the holder has established himself successfully he will be required to pay a rent that will cover the capitalisation of his establishment. He will also have the opportunity to acquire the freehold of his farm when he is in a position to take this step.

Farm Buying at £1 a Week.

One-family hand-milking dairy farms, carrying eighteen to twenty-four cows, using cows as a figure indicating adequate livelihood, can be provided for unemployed men and their families at a rental of not more than £1 a week—a rental which includes some provision for the holder to acquire the freehold of his section. It is well known that a farm of eighteen to twenty-four cows, hand-milked, can give as much net profit as a farm of from thirty to thirty-five cows machine-milked. It must be emphasised that the one-family dairy-farm must not be large enough to necessitate machine-milking. A hand-milked cow averages a 10 per cent. better yield than a machine-milked one. The hand also holds down that burden of “overhead”; the maintenance cost per cow is reduced to about £1 a year.

A new settler's dairying herd.

A new settler's dairying herd.

Variety of Produce.

Naturally the man on a small dairy-farm will do his best to “live on the land” by growing vegetables and fruit, keeping poultry, raising a few pigs, and so on. On a large dairy-farm dairying is usually the only objective, but on a small farm, milking a few cows can become diversified. The economic eggs of the future must be put in a variety of baskets—a variety which will be the definite objective of the Small Farm Movement.

The selling-capacity of small farms is shown in the following list, to which additions can be made:—Labour to neighbourhood, butterfat, bobby calves, weaner calves, vealers, yearling heifers, weaners, porkers, baconers, eggs, young poultry, cull fowls, ducks and various specialised poultry, sheep and wool from cull lamb buying, angora wool, root and vegetable crops for human use, root crops for stock feeding to neighbourhood, small fruits capable of bearing within up to three years, maize, firewood, grass and clover seeds (hand-harvested), special certified seed, preserved fruit and pickles to neighbourhood, vegetable seeds, certain flower seeds, tobacco, and many other commodities from which at least a few pounds can be made, and which, in the aggregate, would easily provide a comfortable living.

Of course, in regard to immediate returns, butterfat appears to be the major line most easy of attainment, but the ultimate objective should be the development of farms where the yearly labour of the farmer is at least partly devoted to production of higher per acre return than milk. Such crops must, however, be producible without high capitalisation costs.