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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 79


There is no general truth of wider application than that "the Earth is the Mother of all;" and yet scientific agriculture—that knowledge of natural laws and their application, whereby the earth is made to yield her increase to her highest capacity—commands a practical interest from the general public not at all commensurate with the national and human importance of the subject. In a young and naturally fertile country like New Zealand no one denies the supreme importance of the farming and pastoral industries. On all sides in politics the aspiring parliamentary candidate emphatically declares that the farmers are "the backbone of the country." The city business man gives prizes to be competed for at agricultural shows, and at all show dinners talks eloquently of the duty of the Government being to "foster the interests of agriculture."

Inspired by a perusal of our annual trade statistics, newspaper writers point triumphantly to the figures re-presenting our agricultural and pastoral exports, and wax enthusiastic about the marvellous productiveness of "this grand little country" the energy and industry of our rural population and the paramount national importance of our "primary industries." In short, there is no lack amongst us of verbal recognition of the inestimable value to the nation of "the Man with the hoe." or, rather, as a matter of fact, "the Man with the plough." and various other instruments of which the talkers do not even know the names.

Therefore, it may be said the general public does take a very great interest in agriculture, the implication to the contrary in my opening sentence notwithstanding. And in a sense it is quite true that we all feel an interest in that most necessary of all industries to the subsistence of humanity. The politician takes a political interest in the votes of the farmers; the Colonial Treasurer—I beg his pardon—Minister of Finance takes a financial interest in the volume and commercial value of our agricultural exports; the city merchant and professional man take a commercial interest in the "purchasing power" of the farming population; and all sorts of people, who know nothing about farming, take a kindly, romantic interest in it, as a more or less picturesque occupation associated with green fields and lowing herds, waving cornfields, and' the stalwart virtues of the back-block pioneer.

But my remark referred to "scientific" agriculture, and the inadequate "practical" interest taken in it by the general public. By a practical interest I mean an interest which causes people to definitely realise the economic value of scientific knowledge as applied to agriculture. I mean such an interest as will impel those who feel it to exert a persistent pressure upon the Government and members of Parliament to induce them to devote sufficient public funds to the establishment and carrying on with efficiency of our experimental and demonstration State farms, and to provide opportunities for a sound agricultural training for all young men who have the sense to take advantage of it What we want is a thorough knowledge of practical farming, based on scientific principles. The truths of agricultural science are discovered partly in the laboratory of the scientist, but they can only be practically tested and proved by actual experience upon the land. Both kinds of work cost money, and are worth expending money upon, from the point of view of national economy. And yet, notwithstanding the admirable work which has been done in certain directions by our Agricultural Department, there is no division of the public service which is so hampered in its functions by ignorant and carping criticism, and by the grudging spirit in which its fianancial requirements are met when the necessary annual votes are asked for.

If the general public realised what the agricultural and pastoral industries actually mean for this country, they would be enthusiastic about the work of the Agricultural Department, and this enthusiasm would be reflected in the Press, in Parliament and in the Government. The Minister of Agriculture would not be afraid to submit to Cabinet estimates, based upon the advice of his technical advisers and administrative officers, as the necessary amounts required to make the work of the Department efficient in promoting the agricultural development of page 10 the country. Roughly speaking, more than four-fifths of the value of our total exports is made up by agricultural and pastoral products, without taking into account the local consumption. It is no exaggeration to say that the entire material prosperity of New Zealand is absolutely dependent upon the productivity of her soil. Compared with the national wealth represented by our annual output of wool, meat, dairy produce and other products directly or indirectly derived from the cultivation of the land, the value of all other exports is a mere bagatelle.