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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 79

Waerenga State Farm of Demonstration

page 4

Waerenga State Farm of Demonstration.

It is a good many years since the writer first went fiver the block of land on which the present State experimental farm, known as "Waerenga," is situated. At that time it was a tract of land of some two or three thousand acres near Rangariri, on the Waikato railway line, which, like a large area of the surrounding country, looked quite hopeless as a field for settlement. Ever since its confiscation from the Natives, as a result of the Waikato war, the country for many miles beyond the Whangomarino River had lain practically waste and unoccupied. As seen from the railway, it has an expanse of poor clay lulls, interspersed with a succession of miserable-looking rush swamps. The "Meremere hills" were, to all travellers to the Waikato, a synonym for all that was barren, poor and useless in the shape of land.

Unpromising Soil.

Surrounding the dismal-looking swamps were low rolling hills, covered with stunted fern and teatree. The character of the soil from a superficial observation was a cold, stiff clay, which no one would look at for cultural purposes. Although traversed by a rail-way, the value in the market of this belt of country, for tannine purposes, was practically nil. In its unimproved state—and it was almost all unimproved—its speculative value, looking to the chances of the future "unearned increment." might he put at half-a-crown an acre. It would have been difficult to find any one at that time who would have bought a section of this land at that price if the conditions of the purchase had entailed the obligation to cultivate the holding. Experienced colonial settlers would have laughed to scorn the idea of any man making a living off such land, even if he got it for nothing.

Might Possibly Grow Wattles

Just beyond Wairangi station, now re-named Te Kawhata there was a block of Crown land of 2000 or 3000 acres, stretching as far as Lake Waikare, a portion of which had been roughly turned over and planted with the Australian tanning-bark, black wattle (acacia decurrens) and golden wattle (acacia pyncnantha) as an experiment, the idea being that if useless for any other purpose the land might possibly grow wattles, and trees give some return in bark for tanning purposes. This wattle plantation grew, slowly of course, the young trees gradually showing up over the scrub and fern between the rows. Later sowings were made from time to time, and at last the plantation came under the care of the Agricultural Department, and Mr Clifton, at that time District Inspector of Stock, took it in hand. He made an experiment with two areas sown with wattles. On one area he ploughed the land and sowed the seed without any manure. On the adjoining area, ploughed in the same way, about lewt of fertiliser to the acre was sown with the wattle seed in the rows. This small dressing was, of course, only sufficient to give the young trees a start, but the result was striking. In a few years the trees that had received the manurial stimulant were three or four times as large as those on the adjoining unmanured area, and they continued to grow and keep ahead of the latter permanently. What had happened was that the young trees which had been given the small fillip of manure had been made vigorous enough at the start to get a good hold of the soil and to forage for the plant food needful to their rapid growth fat more successfully than the unassisted trees. This initial advantage continued to tell after the stimulant itself had become exhausted, and year after year the stronger trees outstripped the others more and more, though after the first year entirely dependent upon the natural fertility of the soil.

Effects of Tillage.

This responsiveness to a little artificial help suggested to Mr Clifton that the cultural possibilities of the soil might be greater than had been sup-posed, especially for tree growth, including orchard trees. With the approval of the Agricultural Department a little experimental cultivation was undertaken at Waerenga. Some amount of draining was done, and the plough and disc harrows were set to work so as to thoroughly break up and aerate the stiff soil. This was no easy job, for in wet weather the land was like page 5 sticky pudding, and in the dry season it got as hard as bricks. However, the effects of tillage and partial drain-age upon the condition of the soil were remarkable in a very short time. The land, with constant working instead of turning up in big, hard clods, began to get much more kindly and friable in its nature, until people who visited the place could scarcely believe that the cultivated parts of the block had ever been the same character of soil as the portions they saw which were still unimproved.

Vine Growing Successful.

After a time, Mr Palmer, of the horticultural division of the Department, suggested making a trial plantation of lines on two or three acres with a suitable aspect. These vines were planted without any specially deep preparation of the ground, but they were liberally manured, and the weeds, chiefly sorrel, were kept down between the rows by constant scarifying through the summer, which also kept the surface soil in good loose tilth. The way the vines throve on this originally unsuitable-looking land surprised every-one. Not only did the vines grow, but they bore and ripened heavy crops of grapes, from which, after a time, many gallons of light wine were successfully made. These original vines, thus experimentally planted and treat-ed, continued to bear well for several seasons, until they were replaced by fetter varieties for wine-making purposes, grafted on phylloxera resistant stocks. At the present time there are about twenty acres under vines at Waerenga, all on resistant stocks of various kinds, for experimental purposes.

The "Practical" Man on "Fancy Farming."

These remarks about early beginnings at Waerenga Experimental Farm are preliminary to an account of the writer's impressions of the work done here, and at the other State farm at Ruakura, gathered during a recent visit of inspection after an interval of two or three years since his previous visit. The natural character of the laud at Waerenga, and its popular reputation as being practical!:—worthless for cultural purposes, have been dwelt on to enable renders to realise the real public value of the operations and expenditure upon this place. It is the fashion among so-called "practical" farmers to belittle and sneer at all State efforts in the direction of educational work, in actual farming and orchard practice. What particularly aggravates the struggling small farmer is that, at these State farms, things are done on a scale and in a way, owing to the command of adequate capital, which he feels it is hopeless for him to emulate. After all, this feeling is very natural, and should be allowed for in criticising the depreciatory remarks on "fancy farming" which emanate from the average settler at farmers' meetings and elsewhere. We all know that every-thing becomes comparatively easy, from running a business to getting into Parliament, with the command of money. Human nature, therefore, being what it is, we ought not to judge harshly the unfairness and sometimes apparent ignorance of the opinions expressed about the waste of public money that goes on in keeping up such institutions us Waerenga, Ruakura. Moumahaki and Weraroa. These condemnatory remarks are often the natural expression of an exasperated feeling that at the State farms a show is made of farming achievements which the speaker feels he could himself accomplish with the same expenditure of capital. It is true that very often he is mistaken in this idea, because without the requisite know ledge how to spend the money wisely, he might spend twice as much and achieve Jar less than the trained agriculturist. But it is not surprising that, with that proper conceit of him-self that characterises any man of an independent spirit, he is 'convinced he could do as well, if not hotter under equally favourable financial conditions.

Experimental Work Not Directly Profitable.

But what is to be chieflv deprecated from the point of view of the public interests, is the habit of depreciating the public, value of these experimental and demonstration Slate farms, merely because they are carried on with a greater expenditure of capital than the average farmer can compass. The purely experimental side of these institutions cannot he expected to be directly profitable. Indeed, direct profit is incompatible with the real usefulness of experimental work, where the failures of certain tests and trials are unite as valuable, as educational lessons, as the successes.

Experimental Distinct from Demonstration Work.

In the opinion of the writer the experimental side of these farms should form a separate division of the work, and should be kept entirely distinct as regards accounts and management, from the demonstration side of the farm operations. An export in scientific agricultural experiments should have charge of this department, someone who has had experience in the keeping of accurate and detailed records of the page 6 results of such experiments, the nature and scope of which should be decided by the actual bearing of the results obtained upon the practical work of farming in the several districts of this country. The area devoted to such work upon each State farm should be comparatively small, so long as it is sufficient to afford a reliable test of the particular matter with regard to which the enlightenment of experience is sought. With the general management of the farm this scientific expert should have nothing to do.

The general manager's work is to demonstrate the results of good farming on up-to-date lines under the several sets of conditions to be met with as to soil and climate in different parts of New Zealand. He will of course. if he is a competent man, avail him-self of any of the practical lessons to be learnt from the results of the experiments carried out. But in so doing he will be guided by commercial considerations, inasmuch as he has to show how to carry on agricultural and horticultural operations under given natural conditions, so as to obtain the highest average returns from the land. He must mix science with practice and practice with science, and the whole with shrewd commonsense and alert brains.

How to Show that Good Farming Pays.

A visit to a demonstration farm run on these principles, with someone to explain the why and the wherefore of the things he sees, will teach the aver-age young farmer who wishes to learn more than he would gather of practical knowledge from a six months' course of lectures at the usual typo of agricultural college. Not but what the courses of study at these agricultural academies have their value, when properly used by those students most fitted to profit by them. But it must be remembered that the great bulk of the young men who "go on the land" are not, and never will be, students, properly so called. To them theoretical book-learning is anathema, and the knowledge thus acquired mere words, with no actual connection which they can perceive with the everyday work upon a farm. What they require to make them improve their farming practice is ocular evidence in pastures, crops and stock of what can be done by a knowledge of first principles, and the carrying out of these principles by businesslike methods. Above all, they must be shown that good farming will pay. In fact any system of farming which cannot he shown to be payable is not good farming from the economic point of view, which is the only on worth considering in connection with national industries.

Educational Results from Demonstration Farms and Agricultural Colleges.

For these, and other reasons, we have long held that demonstration farms properly conducted are far more valuable as an educational agent in agricultural, horticultural and pastoral matters than colleges of agriculture, with their costly equipment of buildings, apparatus and scientific professors. By this we mean that, in proportion to cost, the farming industry as a whole, and therefore the whole community, will derive far more practical benefit, because extended over a much wider area, from the educational influence of these farms than from that of agricultural colleges.

A Commercial Value Given to Previously Unsaleable Lands.

Let us take the ease of Waerenga, and ask ourselves what the work carried on there has "demonstrated." To begin with, we must bear in mind that the class of land dealt with at Waerenga forms a large proportion of the total land area of Auckland pro vince—at a safe guess, several hundred thousands of acres. The proof as seen at Waerenga, that such land has a commercial value for various cultural purposes has raised its unimproved value in the market 300 or 400 per cent. About thirty years ago this class of country would have been difficult to sell in areas of any considerable size, even within reach of the railway, at half-a-crown an acre—indeed, it is said that a block of 10,000 acres of somewhat better land, but of the same character, was set aside by the authorities as an endowment for the Auckland University College, because it could not he disposed of by the Crown at 2s 6d an acre.

About ten years ago, some time after the first cultural experiments on Waerenga State Farm had been begun, the Agricultural Department, on the re-commendation of Mr E. Clifton, bought twelve hundred acres adjoining the original block at a cost of £800 in its natural state. At the present time no unimproved land within a radius of several miles of Waerenga could probably be bought under 40s per acre In certain positions such land would fetch 60s, and perhaps more.

The evidence offered to all who will notice it at Waerenga, namely that these so-called worthless clay lands are not worthless at all when properly dealt page 7 with is surely worth a good deal to the country and districts where similar land exists in very large tracts. But this is not an item which can be shown in the Waerenga balance-sheet.

Fruit Growing Proved Highly Successful.

From the first it was recognised that on soil of this character the most suitable cultural industry would probably be fruit-growing. Accordingly plantations were made for testing purposes of different varieties of apples, pears, peaches, plums, apricots, cherries, etc., on well-worked land after a certain amount of open ditch and underground draining had been done. This was about ten years ago, and this season we saw these first-planted trees, close to the homestead, in most unpromising-looking soil, yet healthy and sturdy in growth, and carrying large crops of splendid fruit. The cherries were over, most of them devoured by bird-thieves, but we were assured they bore heavy crops of fruit. We were agreeably surprised to see more than one variety of apricot in full bearing, the first of them just ripe and delicious eating. The general experience has been that this fruit is seldom successfully grown in the Auckland district except in certain favoured spots, such as the Thames

Peaches and plums were carrying plenty of good fruit, some of the latter were a sight to see in their prolific bearing. Apples do remarkably well, the fruit being of good keeping quality from the proper varieties, and remarkably well coloured wherever colour is a characteristic of the variety. Pears were coming into good bearing in many cases, although as most people know, pear trees require age before they come into full bearing. The success of the vines planted has already been referred to. At the time of the writer's visit in January the vineyard, now covering about 20 acres, and trained on the espalier system, was looking remarkably flourishing, although the rainy season and low summer temperature of this year have not been conducive to a heavy crop of grapes.

Preparing Fruit Farms for Small Settlers.

Having proved the suitability of the climate and soil for fruit-growing, a scheme was started, on the suggestion of Mr Clifton, whereby 1200 acres, added to the original block about ten years ago, was subdivided into sections of not more than 50 acres each. These areas were to be prepared for profitable occupation by planting a portion of each section in orchard, laying down another portion in pasture, and reserving a third portion for arable purposes. Under this scheme some 408 acres have been dealt with up to the present, comprising eleven farms, ranging in size from 21 to 48 acres, most of them being over 30 acres in extent. The planting was done gradually, and the age of the orchards varies from eight years to three years. The longest planted orchard has now pears in bearing. The object of the scheme was to bring these farms to such a stage of development that settlers with small capital, and who could not wait long for a living return from the land, could take them up under lease, or by purchase, under the Government land regulations, and make an immediate living from their holdings. Last year these fruit farms, each with its proportion of pasture and cropping land, were thrown open for selection under the optional tenure, and every one of the eleven sections was taken up under one tenure or another. The improvements, besides the planted fruit trees and the grass, consisted of a certain amount of fencing, and shelter belts planted. As an illustration of the value added to this land, originally bought by the Government at from 10s to 12s 6a per acre, we may take No. 3 farm, which was purchased by the selector for cash. This holding consists of a little over thirty acres, of which 16¾ acres are in orchard, mostly peach, apple and pear trees, planted in 1906; six acres in grass, and the balance unimproved or partly occupied by shelter belts. The valuation placed on this farm for cash, and at which it was taken up, was £710, and works out at £37 10s for the orchard land, £7 for the grass land, and £2 10s for the balance per acre. The trees are coming into free bearing this year, and at the time of our visit the owner, Mr Griffiths, was gathering some fine Triumph peaches for marketing. He has built a good house on the place, and from his remarks we gathered he was quite satisfied with his bargain.

Cost of Scheme Recouped to the State.

The valuations of the whole of the eleven farms, under which they were all taken up, amount to £6640 for the 400 odd acres, and this amount about covers the cost to the State of their purchase and cultivation to date. At the same time it must be remembered that in the case of some of the earlier planted areas, taken by themselves, mistakes were made which had to be rectified, thus making the cost more than it need have been with the experience gained page 8 later. But such mistakes are inevitable in pioneering experimental work, and do not detract from the value to the public of the "demonstration" that, under proper management, this hitherto useless land can be brought into profitable occupation.

General Cultural Value of Waerenga Demonstrated.

It has, moreover, been proved that this land will not only grow fruit, but that with reasonable drainage and thorough working it can be brought into a fit state for permanent pasture. Also, in a harvested crop of oats which we saw in stack there was undoubted evidence that good crops of oats can be grown on this soil with no more than an ordinary dressing of manure, such as any good farmer would use upon average Waikato land. The straw was satisfactory, and the crop was well headed. As regards pasture. Waerenga is not, of course, a rye-grass country, but cocksfoot and paspalum, and several other grasses will hold, and with a proportion of clover make very fair pasture. We were surprised to observe how well the red clover and cow-grass were showing up in many parts. The paspalum in one paddock had fairly taken possession and formed a capital thick sole of grass, which during the summer, at all events, was capable of carrying a fair average amount of stock per acre.

Enormous Cost for Manure a Delusion.

Many sceptical people who see the results at Waerenga cannot believe that they have been attained except at an enormous cost for manure. But the writer was assured by Mr Clifton and by Mr Shepherd, the capable farm manager, that this is not the case. The fact is that, on soil of this description, thorough, deep tillage and frequent working has more permanent effect than heavy dressings of fertilisers. Indeed, without the tillage, and, of course drainage, the manure would do little or no good, however much was used. This necessarily means labour, and labour, our readers may say, is a very expensive kind of manure in this country. This is of course, true, and must be taken into account when considering the profitable cultivation of this kind of land. It means, no doubt, a larger initial outlay in capital, and a longer period to wait for returns than most small farmers can afford. For this reason we do not contend that land of this description, in its original unimproved state, is land upon which a man without capital, or resources to enable him to wait for returns, ought to settle. But the value of the Waerenga scheme of preparing orchards and farms for occupation consists in the fact that it has proved it is worth while for a syndicate, with command of sufficient capital, to take up such land, at a small initial cost for the freehold, and under good practical management bring it into a profitable condition for occupation by small industrious holders, under Glasgow leases, or other acceptable arrangement, to working settlers with little capital. We believe that if such an enterprise were taken up on a sufficiently largo scale, the first dead work of improvement could be effected at a low comparative cost per acre. "What has been done at Waerenga by the Agricultural Department would be an invaluable guide in connection with a scheme of improvement for soil of this character whether such work were taken up by private capitalists or by the Government. Such a scheme, properly conducted, would mean the utilisation of large areas of hitherto waste and unprofitable land, and would, we believe, handsomely recoup the outlay of the needful capital in rents and sales of land to working settlers.

Waerenga Wine.

Before we leave Waerenga, the successful manufacture of wine there may be mentioned. The wine made there may be described as a good sound claret or light Burgundy. It is pure, whole-some and palatable, naturally dry in character, and constitutes a most suitable beverage for this climate. It could probably be grown at a good profit if sold at the low price of 7s 6d per gallon, and would be far more healthful that heavy beer and fiery whisky. A good judge of wine recently told the writer that he intended to lay down a stock of Waerenga wine, as he considered it far superior to most of the imported European light wines and less heady than the vintage of Australia which we set in New Zealand.

It may be added, with regard to the conditions under which the Waerenga farms are held, that there are no hard and fast lines as to the class of dwelling the selector lives in, so long as he resides on his section. He may live in a tent if he likes. But, as a matter of fact, although the eleven sections offered had only been taken up the previous October, four dwelling-houses had already been erected by the following January, and all are good serviceable buildings.