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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 72

New Zealand Dairying

page 8

New Zealand Dairying,

In response to a kind invitation from your Conference, received immediately upon my arrival from England, I have much pleasure in giving you my views concerning our Dairying Industry.

I consider this subject one of the most vital importance, not only to dairy farmers or those interested in agriculture in any of its branches, but to every individual in the colony. If the question of the successful and profitable manufacture and sale of dairy produce be not solved in a satisfactory manner, it will mean serious results which will be reflected through the whole community. If we do not export butter and cheese in what way shall we be able to bring a corresponding amount of cash into the country? Fat cattle would become almost unsaleable, and even now the supply of frozen mutton is more than equal to demand. Were it not for the Messrs. Nelson's and a few others who are making a firm stand to regulate prices, sheepowners would not find frozen mutton a paying business.

One of the chief objects of my present visit is to induce all concerned to take similar action to prevent their produce being sacrificed.

The time is past when we were proud to be able to sell our butter in England at any price, and we all recognise the fact that if any article be sold under cost there must of necessity soon be an end of the manufacture of same.

As I was one of the first to start in New Zealand factories for the production of butter only, a short sketch of my connection with this business may not be out of place. In 1887 the outlook for agriculture seemed very black. There was absolutely nothing in demand. Every-one seemed to grow more of everything than they required, and sheep and cattle were almost given away. Though any quantity of butter could be bought for 2d. or 3d. per lb., yet people complained of the difficulty of procuring a really first-class article which would keep. As this seemed to be the only thing which might possibly be sold, I deter-mined to start a creamery, and I did so at my farm at Pakekura in Waikato. Mr. Gemmill—perhaps the best butter-maker who has ever been in the colony—was in charge, but everything went against us, even the weather which was exceptionally hot that it was usually quite page 9 impossible to make the butter, and even when it could be made we could not sell it; and for months, though all expenses were going on, nearly the whole output of the creamery was left on hand. The suppliers seeing the state of the case voluntarily came forward and offered to cancel the agreement I had entered into with regard to buying their milk. But I declined, though grateful for the consideration, as I felt that if an export trade could be worked up it must be right if one could hold out long enough. Not knowing anything about English requirements or packing, the first shipments being sent in tins were a decided financial failure and a heavy loss. However, though most of my friends considered me insane, there were still one or two who had faith in the possibilities of the industry; these put capital into the business, and we developed into a Limited Liability Company. During all this time we continued to ship to England, but the report was always that, on account of distance and time occupied in transit, New Zealand butter could never be anything more than a second or third class article. My firm then decided that I must go and personally investigate the matter and see what could be done.

When upon landing at Plymouth, two boxes of butter which had been carried in the freezing room were found to be as perfect as when freshly made—the difficulty of transit was solved. There only remained the conservatism and prejudice of the British merchant and tradesman to fight. It is not the consumer who is so afraid of anything new, but the tradesman who is afraid of having it left on his hands. It was with the greatest difficulty that buyers could be induced to even look at New Zealand butter. A perishable article like butter coming from New Zealand, a land that many only associated with cannibals and the Maori war, was only looked upon with derision. But if a customer could only be induced to buy it once, he almost invariably returned for more, saying that there never had been such butter in the market.

This was the state of things four years ago. To-day, a single large shipment from New Zealand or Australia will, by its arrival or delay, raise or lower the whole tone of the market throughout Great Britain; and dealers find that to please their customers they are bound to keep colonial butter. By all competent unbiassed judges the best colonial butter is pronounced equal to best Danish, and some of our brands better than Danish, as ours is grass butter, and theirs during winter is of course stall fed. Why can we not get in such a case as good prices as they? Very often our butter is 10/- to 15/- per cwt. lower. The reason is the Danish producers regulate prices from Denmark, page 10 and the whole of their output is controlled by one committee. We New Zealanders must do something on the same lines. We are too far away to regulate prices weekly, but manufacturers here know the cost of production, also cost of storing in England and other expenses. Let them form an association to fix a minimum price, and authorising their agents to store should such prices not be realised. The London Docks, and Proprietors of Hay's Wharf, are making special arrangements for the storing of butter, the cost of which will not be more than 1/- per cwt. per month. By making proper use of this refrigeration produce would not be forced upon a low-toned or over-stocked market, and prices would be more evenly regulated throughout the season. Farmers should be induced to have their cows in early, as butter arriving after Christmas is almost certain to find lower markets. Prices are usually better during November and December than at any other time of year.

If the Government wish to keep up the credit of the colony they should have stringent laws as to the careful and correct grading and branding of produce. Upon arrival in England it should again be examined and reported upon by a competent man, who will keep the Government posted up with the latest information upon everything connected with the subject. To ensure dairy produce arriving in London in good condition, it is absolutely necessary that the coastal steamers which deliver the goods at the port from which the Home-bound steamers sail be fitted with cold chambers. If cold storage were provided at the ports and on the coastal steamers, we could freeze our butter in the factory in Waikato, and send it straight to the direct steamer without change or delay.

As the steamers will not take in freezing-room butter which has not been in a cold room for at least three days previously, we have now to send to Wellington to have this done, and during the trip down the coast through the hot summer weather even the best article is often rendered fishy, and saleable only as second or third-rate stuff.

Before leaving London, a deputation consisting of Messrs. Trengrouse & Co., Coey & Co., and myself, waited upon the Shaw, Savill and Albion Company, and New Zealand Shipping Company, to discuss temperatures, &c., and it was agreed to advise shippers of butter to send everything in one chamber, to be kept at a temperature of from 20 to 30° Farenheit. The result of numerous experiments has been that goods carried at the lower temperatures turn out best. The mildew, of which so many complaints have been made, has been caused page 11 by too high a temperature, the cold air condensing causing moisture, consequently mildew. If shippers would be willing to send their goods at the temperature named, i.e., 20° to 30°, it would be of advantage to the Shipping Campanies, as they would not have to provide two different chambers, or to cause so much disappointment by not having space to take goods. If the temperature for butter be the same as for mutton, there should be no difficulty in always obtaining space, and with these increased facilities for shipment there might be a chance of possible reductions in freight.

The London Chamber of Commerce were good enough to elect me as a member representing New Zealand produce, and during an interview with the secretary he said they would co-operate with colonies in giving all possible assistance in furthering the interests of anything connected with our commerce. They intend going fully into the question of butter adulteration and mixtures, and will make a strong stand to have the lines prohibitive, as the small fines at present in force are quite ineffectual. They are doing a good deal with regard to the bacon trade, and are insisting on those who sell Foreign and American brands not selling them as well-known English makes.

Cheese.—New Zealand cheese is carefully looked for by those who understand it. A great deal is of about the same quality as average American, but some is excellent. Here also we must look to our own interests, as one small incident out of many will show. An English dealer bought New Zealand cheese at 54/-; repacked it and returned it to the colony at 78/- as best Cheddar. Though I am not at liberty to mention names, I received this information from the dealer himself. Some of our cheese is rather dry and crumbly for British tastes, and often not sufficiently mild in flavour. The London tradesman likes a cheese from which he can cut very small slices without waste.

From four years' personal experience and information gathered from all available sources, I am convinced that we must send produce to London and distribute from there. Different qualities are required in the different parts of the country, as butter and cheese suitable for the North and Midlands would not do for the South. A considerable quantity also of both first-class and inferior butter is sent to the continent to work in with mixtures and returned to England. Nearly every large firm in England has a London representative who buys for his principal according to instructions and requirements.

Liverpool is one of the strongholds of the Danish trade, and it will be some time before the colonial article makes much headway there or page 12 in similar towns. Were a few large shipments to be landed there, the result would be a sale at any price to clear, and the bulk would be bought by London dealers and sold again at a profit. We colonists are not in a position to be able to afford to pay three or four middlemen. If there is any profit we must try and let it return to New Zealand. When first I went to England, with the avowed intention of dealing directly with the retailers, I was told that such an end was quite impossible; now it would be difficult to name a merchant or importer who would refuse an order from a respectable retailer.

We are experimenting with Bacteria or Lactic Acid, brought from Denmark, with the object of making one uniform quality of good butter possible throughout the colony, but it is too early as yet to speak of the result.

The need for concerted action in the matter of the sale of our produce may be judged from one or two out of many such instances. A buyer told me he had bought a large line of good butter at 92/-, and was very happy over it, as he had been paying 114/- for butter of similar quality, and expected to pay same for this line had he been asked. Another bought 250 boxes at the docks at 92/-, and sold immediately after at 108/-; also, another large line bought by same dealer at 100/- and sold at 110/-. Some of the dealers say that many agents have no idea of the value of their goods. Though I need not take up your time by enumerating cases, you will, I am sure, agree that these profits should have been received by the manufacturer, not the London dealer.

No country is so well adapted for the production of dairy produce as New Zealand, and most creamery owners are quite up to date with appliances and skill. With the assistance I have pointed out from the Government with regard to cool storage and stringent export laws, there should in future be no difficulty in turning out most of our dairy produce extra superfine.