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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 62

Noxious Weeds

Noxious Weeds

The conference first dealt with noxious weeds.

The remarks of the sub-Committee were read as under:—"The rapidity with which weeds have and are spreading throughout the colony is a matter for serious consideration. One of the most extensive and practical farmers in New Zealand, writing on this subject, says :—' Taking the best wheat lands, such as would grow with good management from forty to sixty bushels of wheat per acre, the depreciation in the selling value of such land by the presence of wild turnips, Californian thistle, or fat hen, for these are really our most alarming weeds, I should estimate at not less than from 35 to 60 per cent. Farming in the future must consist of a continual war with weeds. The weeds must be kept down, or the farmers muse fall before them.' It is difficult to suggest a complete remedy for this unsatisfactory state of things. Fallow crop with the vigorous use of the drill, hoe, and grubber—a more general use of the harrow in the corn crops in the early spring—and a system of farm competitions where freeness from weeds would take a prominent place in judging, are all means to the end. Much might also be done in the way of careful sifting of seeds before sowing, and the destruction of all chaff and rubbish from the threshing machines. There is an Act for the Suppression of the Californian Thistle in Tasmania. The matter requires grave consideration."

Mr Kyngdom moved—"That this Conference is of opinion that the Government should, during the next session of Parliament, introduce a measure to retard the spread of noxious weeds, especially of gorse, page 17 briar, and Californian thistles." He thought it was a matter in which Parliament should be asked to interfere, because there were people who were doing great harm to their neighbours. In Auckland, he might say, and Taranaki, the gorse was a perfect nuisance and a pest. He thought that what was wanted to be done was that the local bodies should have power to deal with the nuisance, because it was a grave one. In Nelson there were numbers of acres of land rendered entirely worthless by the sweetbriar.

Mr McLaren called the attention of the mover to the fact, that under the Public Works Act there was ample powers given to local bodies to deal with the nuisance on the public roads. They in their county had had to put the law in force.

Mr Olson seconded the motion.

Mr Matthews pointed out that in the Wairarapa the Government were the greatest offenders in planting gorse and broom to protect the railway, and the seeds were carried broadcast over the country. The Government, therefore, ought to take steps to put a stop to this nuisance. He was much afraid that no legislation could deal with this question. It must be done by the settlers.

Mr Coleman Philips said that as the Government were planting gorse and broom all over the colony it was no use going to them. He would suggest to the mover that he should include a provision in his motion that the local bodies should be empowered to fine any one, the Government included.

Mr John Grigg said they in their county were continually using the power given by the Public Works Act, and therefore their roads were clear. But the worst part of the question was that the Government were, as had been stated, planting all over the country, and therefore he thought they did right in calling the attention of the Government to the matter. As to the gorse there was a very effectual manner of keeping them from seeding by cutting the plants before the seed formed. He had no sympathy whatever with calling upon the Government for everything. He certainly was opposed altogether to State aid. Let the settlers do their duty, and call upon the Government to do theirs.

Mr Fitzroy said that in the North Island there were millions of acres owned by Maoris. Now no legislation could touch this. He believed in what Mr Grigg had said, that they should depend upon themselves.

Mr Pashby said that he would move as an amendment—"That the several members of this Conference be requested to impress upon their Committee the necessity for urging the farmers in their several districts to wage a continuous war against this increasing plague." The Californian thistles had come on to Kaiapoi Island in a very small way, but now they had spread all over the district. This seemed to him to emphasise the necessity of growers taking vigorous means to stop these pests when they were in a small way. They had no right to go to the Government, but should do the work themselves.

Mr John Grigg once more urged the necessity of warning the farmers of the alarming growth of weeds. In Canterbury there were farms, the value of which had been depreciated by one-half owing to the spread of noxious weeds.

Mr Cuningham Smith seconded the amendment.

Mr T. Mackenzie, M.H.R., said he was astonished to hear the leading agriculturists say it was no use going to the Government. They all knew that one dirty farm in a neighbourhood would infect the whole district, and the same was true with regard to the local bodies. They would find energetic farmers clearing their lands, whilst the dilatory ones would be as energetically rendering their efforts void. They should, he thought, introduce an Act similar to that in Tasmania, and he was glad to learn from Mr Ritchie that the Minister for Lands intended to introduce an Act dealing with noxious weeds. As regarded the Californian thistle, he thought persons having it in their land should be compelled by legislation to prevent it from seeding. He was of opinion that before the noxious weeds got too great a hold they should ask Parliament to pass repressive legislation.

Mr Waby said that he thought what was wanted was something to make the negligent local bodies take action. There was no doubt that the river beds were fertile sources of spreading these noxious weeds, and he thought some steps should be taken to compel the local bodies to keep these in order. In addition be the noxious weeds mentioned in the motion, he might call attention to the spread here in Canterbury of fat hen and twitch. It was now becoming a serious matter, and something should be done to prevent fat hen from seeding. He hoped to see local bodies empowered to make farmers prevent this seeding. The twitch, too, was becoming a nuisance, and was being spread all over the country by being reaped as grass seed. So bad had this become that he would not purchase a bushel of grass seed unless he knew where is was from.

Mr Bidwell urged the necessity of repressive legislation. Unless this were done they would be bequeathing to the coming generation a frightful task. Unless something were done he felt sure quite a quarter of the land in the North Island would become valueless from the spread of gorse in twenty years if something were not done. They had enacted stringent legisla- page 18 tion with regard to scab and rabbits, and he thought they should do so also with regard to the spread of noxious weeds.

Mr McLaren said that he hoped the Conference would be very careful as to how they called in the aid of the Government, or they would find very serious interference with private rights. He thought the matter would right itself, as unless the farmers kept their land clear of weeds they would find its value deteriorating. He deprecated this continual running to the Government for everything. They should be more self-reliant.

Captain Willis said that he had read recently of a case in England in which a farmer had been sued for causing a nuisance to his neighbour by allowing noxious weeds to grow. This was a common law remedy, and could be applied here. He desired to draw the attention of the Conference to a most dangerous weed—the Cape weed—which was most difficult to get rid of. It could not be destroyed by digging up or cutting its roots. He thought that the spread of weeds was due in a great measure to the threshing machines.

Mr Gough said he thought the most important matter for the farmers to do was to prevent the seeding of weeds.

Mr Coleman Philips said that it seemed to him the Conference had not a very clear idea on this matter of noxious weeds. There was no doubt that the spread of weeds came from Crown lands. Unless they had legislation which would compel all local bodies to do the work they would have some energetic Counties doing the work and others not, which would paralyse the whole efforts. He would suggest that the only way to deal with the matter was by the reduction of the Counties from sixty-six to thirty-three, as proposed by him. This would enable the Counties to deal with the subject and impose a small rate. As regards the Government doing anything for them he said that Government legislation in these matters was no use, It had failed in regard to scab and with regard to rabbits. The Province of Otago cleaned out the scab by its own efforts far more effectually than the Government had done. That the rise in the price of sheep and looking after the rabbits had cleaned the scab, and not harsh Government repressive measures, which he had little faith in.

Mr Deans suggested that Mr Mackenzie or Mr Ritchie might inform the Conference whether the Bill spoken of as being likely to be introduced by the Minister for Lands would contain the provision for keeping Crown lands clean.

Mr Fitzroy said that there seemed to be great tenderness in dealing with private rights. But those who aid their duty would not suffer, those who did not would be got at and interfered with, which was what they wanted to do.

Mr Holmes said that the discussion had shown the great difficulty which would beset the promoters of any legislation. What were considered weeds in one part of the colony are looked up as valuable plants in another, as instanced by the fact that the measures taken with regard to the gorse in Canterbury would be perfectly useless in the North Island. That being so, he thought no legislation should be introduced without being first submitted to and carefully examined by the various Agricultural and Pastoral Associations.

Mr E. T. Rhodes said that the noxious weed in the Timaru district was the yarrow. The difficulty was not to get people to get rid of it but to know how to do so. He suggested that prizes should be offered lor the best means of destroying these noxious weeds.

Mr D. McLean said that legislation was necessary. In the North Island there were large tracts in the hands of the Maoris, who must be compelled by legislation to keep their land clean. He failed to see anything in what had been said about individual enterprise, and the work done by local bodies, nothing had been done at all What they wanted the Government to do was to give them the opportunity of making those who would not do so keep their land clean.

Mr Kyngdom, in reply, said all that he wanted to get was power for the local bodies to compel all the occupiers of land to keep their land from spreading noxious weeds.

Mr Mackenzie pointed out that Mr Kyngdon's statement in reply was opposed to the spirit of the resolution. He said, in reply, that he did not wish the Government to take steps, but in the resolution it was provided that the Government should be asked to take steps in the matter.

The amendment was then put and lost on the voices.

Mr Holmes then moved, as a further amendment—" That before any legislative action be taken with regard to noxious weeds and their control, the proposals be submitted to the various Agricultural and Pastoral Associations for their approval."

Mr Kyngdom suggested that the amendment should be added to the resolution moved by him.

Mr Holmes agreed to this.

The addition was seconded by Mr Olson.

Mr Carswell said that he did not agree either with the resolution or the addition. He thought the suggestion made by Mr Rhodes that the Conference should circulate information as to how these pests could be got rid of was a most valuable one. They saw that there was great diversity of opinion page 19 as to what were weeds and what not. Some gentlemen had spoken of the nuisance of couch grass, whereas he knew that in parts of the colony it was sown for sheep pasture. He would move as an amendment—"That the attention of County Councils be specially called to the necessity of enforcing the provisions made in the Counties Act, 1886, and other Acts affecting the subject of weeds." He thought that it would be far more practical if the Conference took steps to spread information as to how the weeds could be extirpated than trying to make people farmers by Act of Parliament.

Mr W. Henderson seconded the amendment, and expressed a hope that the expert they had urged the appointment of should be instructed to give information as to the best means of destroying noxious weeds.

After some further discussion, in which Messrs Holmes, Kyngdon, Coleman Philips, Fitzroy and Cuthbertson took part,

Mr Carswell withdrew his amendment in deference to the wish of the Conference, and proposed to put it as a separate resolution.

Mr Kyngdom agreed to alter his motion by the insertion of certain words. The resolution was then amended as follows :—"That this Conference is of opinion that the Government should, in this next session of Parliament, introduce a measure, to enable local bodies or private individuals to retard the spread of noxious weeds, especially of gorse, briars and Californian thistles."

The motion was then carried unanimously.

Mr Ritchie, Secretary for Agriculture and head of the Stock Department, took his seat, and was welcomed by the President.

Mr Carswell then moved his amendment as a separate motion.

Mr Sinclair seconded the motion, which was carried.