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War Economy

Demands on New Zealand Farming

Demands on New Zealand Farming

Supply is vital in war, and it is no reflection on New Zealand fighting men to say that New Zealand's function of providing food for her allies was possibly just as important to the ultimate course of the war as her contribution to the actual fighting. War demanded an outstanding effort in both directions.

Throughout the war there was considerable pressure on New Zealand farming to produce more and more food and to supply it to an increasing range of users. United Kingdom needs increased as alternative sources of supply were successively shut off, and with the increasing Allied initiative in the Pacific from the second half of 1942 came the need to supply food to forces operating in this theatre of war. Foodstuffs to the value of £38 million, equivalent to a full year's supply to the United Kingdom, were diverted to the Pacific.

To some extent any food supplied to United States forces in the Pacific represented a sacrifice by the people of the United Kingdom, whose food was already in short supply. But with increasing mechanisation of New Zealand farms it was possible to provide large quantities of food for the United States forces without serious depletion of supplies to the United Kingdom. The output of farm produce was stepped up by farmers whose numerical strength had suffered considerably by losses to the armed forces; this in spite of the fact that there were shortages of fertilisers and of some types of equipment for farming.

A contribution to the continuance of supplies to the United Kingdom, while exceptional demands for food for forces in the Pacific were being met, was made by the New Zealand consumer, whose consumption of farm products was rationed from 1943.2 In this and many other ways the demands of war made a direct impact on the New Zealand consumer.

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Not only was an increased output expected of the New Zealand farmer but he was required to make quite drastic switches in his production to meet the changing demands of the United Kingdom, as other sources of supply were cut off or became available. Twice there was a substantial change in emphasis between butter and cheese production, involving frustrating and expensive re-planning and re-equipping of dairy factories.

Other new demands emerged and were met. Production of dehydrated meat was a special war industry to meet a United Kingdom demand which lasted from 1942 to 1944. Medicinal plants were grown to meet wartime shortages and, from the beginning of 1943, a very considerable expansion in vegetable growing was necessary to meet requirements of United States forces in the Pacific. Supporting industries were established to dehydrate or quick-freeze vegetables.

Superimposed on all this were anxieties about shipping for perishable foodstuffs and the desirability of extra cool storage, for butter at least, to provide against stoppages or irregularities.

2 Fresh pork from May 1943, butter from October 1943, other meat from March 1944.