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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 29

To the Editor of the New Zealand Country Journal

To the Editor of the New Zealand Country Journal.

Sir,—There is no subject of more importance connected with the agricultural progress of this country than the question—What are the best means that can be adopted for the speedy and safe transit of our largely increasing productions by railway ? It must be palpable to every one that our present system is very far from being successful, and that we are thereby placed at very great disadvantage as producers in comparison with the growers of many other countries. Year after year the railways are blocked in the grain season, and we hear different reasons assigned, such as an insufficient number of trucks, want of storage accommodation, bad harbour arrangements, merchants' delays, and so forth, but little or no improvement takes place; in fact, this year, matters were worse, I believe, than on any former occasion, and an immense loss has been caused to the producer, the exporter, the ship-owner, to say nothing of the public carrier—the Government.

Now, it may be, that each and all of the above-mentioned reasons have helped to create the intolerable state of things we have witnessed this season; but I think the chief cause of all the difficulty is simply this—that the producer is making use of page 179 all the modern appliances which science places within his reach for the saving of labour and quickly preparing his goods for market, while the system adopted on our railways for the carriage of our produce is destitute of nearly all the time and labour-saving improvements of the age. Just compare the spirit of our grain farmers in importing every new machine that is invented in order to enable them to turn out their produce cheaply and quickly, so that we can reap and thresh, and I hope soon tie also, at one-tenth of the cost, and in one-twentieth of the time our fathers did. Compare this with the old world way of doing things on the railways, where we see three or four men unloading a truck of grain, and as many more storing the sacks; where we find the cost of carriage about five times what it might be, and the whole expenses so great, that in spite of the high tariff, our railways are not paying a fair percentage on the original outlay. And, perhaps, this comparison will help to show us where to look for a remedy for what is wrong, namely (as I think), in a total change in the way of managing the traffic, and in the adoption of something like the American system of carrying the grain. No sooner do our farmers know of an American invention for tying grain, than orders are sent by the hundred for the new machine. I would say let the Government follow this example, and obtain, with as little delay as possible, all the necessary information from San Francisco or elsewhere in America, as to the cheapest and quickest way of getting our produce on shipboard, and adopt their plan, or some modification of it, suitable to this country. An American Kail way Company delivers a ton of wheat 50 miles from where it is grown for about 1s. 7d., there is no reason why the same should not be done here with proper appliances for the handling of grain. Under the new tariff, just published, one charge is over 10s. per ton for 50 miles, to which has to be added the terminal charges, and with the everlasting manual labour that goes on, it is probably none too high to cover expenses and leave a small margin of profit. I do not know sufficient of the American way of working the traffic to explain the many labour-saving and ingenious methods adopted, but I have learnt from intelligent travellers through the United States, that by a system of classification of the different parcels of grain, which are shot from the farmers' sacks into the trucks, and by working on the plan of raised and sunken levels on the railways, and of steam-driven elevators in the stores, the grain requires very little manual labour in its transit to port. Surely it would be worth while for the New Zealand Government to send some suitable officer of the Railway Department, to obtain information and report on a system by which such excellent results are obtained, with the view of adopting it here for the general welfare of the country.

I do not think that I can be charged with over-estimating the importance of this subject. The grain production of New Zealand is still in its infancy. I feel certain it will be double what it is now in a few years. Our railways, as at present worked, have proved incapable of meeting the demand upon them; what will be the state of affairs when all the large quantity of agricultural land lately purchased and still to be purchased comes into cultivation ? It does not require much foresight to predict that, unless some such steps as I have mentioned are taken forthwith, enormous loss will be incurred by farmers at a distance from any port, who depending on quick and easy transit by railway, are cultivating large tracts of land for grain growing, which they would not attempt to do but for the delusive hope of having the advantage of efficient railway accommodation.

I would suggest that the matter be taken in hand by the Committee of the Agricultural and Pastoral Association, and that if they agree with me as to the necessity of the case, strong representations should be made by them through our members in the Assembly, to induce the Government to take energetic measures for the adoption in New Zealand of the American system of forwarding grain, as well as coals, timber, &c., by railway. I have no doubt that a unanimous opinion coming from such an influential body would have the desired effect.

A Lincoln Farmer.