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War Economy

New Zealand Farming Developments

New Zealand Farming Developments

War, and the need to meet an urgent demand for extra food with a depleted labour force, gave a boost to farm mechanisation; a boost which could become effective because the United States of America was prepared to supply tractors and other farm equipment under Lend-Lease. Since the war mechanisation of farming has continued rapidly. There were, for example, more than four times as many agricultural tractors in use in 1961 as in 1946.

The return of large numbers of trained pilots from the war encouraged the expansion of air passenger and goods transport and the use of aircraft for topdressing, seed sowing, spraying, and other farm operations. Often the initial experimental work was done by the RNZAF as the scale of military operations declined. For example, the RNZAF ‘undertook extensive trials in the dropping of fertiliser from the air in 1948 at the request of the Soil Conservation and Rivers Control Council, which was interested in page 559 aerial topdressing as a means of improving hill pastures and checking and preventing soil erosion. The RNZAF experiments were successful. The interest of the farming community was aroused and private firms began operating commercially in 1949.’1 The steep nature of much of New Zealand's farming country has made operations from the air of special importance, and in some areas no other method would have been practicable.

Of importance also has been the increasing tendency for more and more farm work to be done on a contract basis. This no doubt enables the available labour to be used much more efficiently, and brings into use specialised equipment which would not be economical unless available to a large number of farmers.

Many other improvements in methods have been developed from research activities of the Agriculture Department, the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, and the universities. As an example, soil research has revealed the nature of the deficiency in some types of soil, which were of little use before the war, and the addition of trace elements has brought in considerable new areas as productive farm land.

Since the war the trend to increased emphasis on sheep farming has continued.2 In 1962 there were 25 sheep for each dairy cow in milk compared with 20 in 1945. In the general shortage of labour which has prevailed, the smaller labour needs for sheep farming may have had an influence here; but price movements also have favoured meat and wool more than dairy produce.

Recently, increasing emphasis has been placed on beef production, in response to encouraging markets in North America. Beef cattle numbers in New Zealand increased over 50 per cent in the decade up to 1962. In response to agitation by United States cattlemen, New Zealand and Australia agreed in 1964 to limit the rate of increase in their supplies, but in spite of this, the prospect for beef looks encouraging.

Between the 1951 and 1961 censuses, the farm labour force decreased by 4 per cent. In the same decade the volume of farm production increased by 31 per cent, so that the quantities of farm products produced per person engaged3 increased by more than a third. This represents a 3 per cent a year increase in output per person, which is rather better than was achieved in manufacturing, and gives some indication of the effectiveness of mechanisation and improvements in methods and management on farms.

1 New Zealand Official Yearbook, 1963, p. 369.

2 See also Chart 42, p. 198.

3 Census counts of persons working on farms include the farmer as well as any labour he engages. Persons engaged in farm contracting, including aerial topdressing, etc., are included under farming.

page 560

The manufacturing labour force increased by 30 per cent in the same period and the increase in its overall volume of production was naturally much larger than in farming; it was 69 per cent. Farm output could have been increased faster by using more labour, but it is open to question whether the increase would have been proportionately faster. Neither has research yet disclosed whether extra labour in farming would have yielded a greater return in output than it did in manufacturing.1

Chart 87 compares farming and manufacturing growth.

chart of farming and trade statistics

Chart 87
INDEX NUMBERS: BASE 1951 (= 1000)

1 The question is not answered by comparing the per person outputs in farming and manufacturing. These are overall averages, whereas what one needs to know is whether 100 extra persons in farming add more than 100 extra persons in manufacturing. In economic terminology, marginal changes need to be studied. Moreover, it is net outputs which matter rather than gross.