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War Economy

Wheat and Flour

Wheat and Flour

Throughout the war, strenuous efforts were made to maintain adequate reserves of essential imported foodstuffs. Arrangements with regard to wheat, which had to be imported in substantial quantities to augment New Zealand production, furnish a good illustration of one of the more successful schemes.

The satisfactory New Zealand supply position for wheat was attributable, in the early stages, to the precautions taken by the National Supply Committee prior to the outbreak of war. Arrangements had been made with the flour millers to carry additional stocks of wheat.1

New Zealand wheat production was boosted by a guaranteed price and it was possible to import substantial quantities of wheat from Australia at favourable prices.

New Zealand's requirements of wheat were estimated, in 1939, at nearly ten million bushels a year, but were to rise to over thirteen million bushels a year by 1945. Extra demands for flour, as a result of some other foods being rationed, and the loss of supplies of alternative grains, such as rice, sago, and tapioca, contributed to the extra need for domestic use. Wheat requirements for poultry also more than doubled as imported feeds such as barley, maize, bran and pollard became unobtainable from Australia, and wheat had to be used in their place. Australia placed an export embargo on bran and pollard in November 1940.

New Zealand production of wheat increased considerably during the war years but was at no time large enough to avoid the necessity for substantial imports. In most years, well over half of New Zealand's requirements were imported.

Towards the end of the war, arrangements were made to obtain extra wheat from Canada under Mutual Aid. Some two and three-quarter million bushels were so landed and a further nearly two and a half million bushels were received after hostilities ceased, and paid for at the ruling rate. About one million bushels of this wheat went to the poultry industry.

In Canada there was a shortage of sacks and, for the first shipments, they had to be provided from New Zealand. The cost of

1 See also p. 38.

page 143 bagging was heavy and the loss of time in loading too great. Canada requested that bulk cargoes be accepted. No wheat had ever been landed in New Zealand in bulk, and ports were not suitably equipped. The two Auckland mills, however, had grain silos for storage. A scheme was devised for unloading the wheat with coal grabs straight into elevated tanks under which lorries could run for loading by chute. Lorries were converted to carry wheat in bulk, and the scheme proved so successful that the Auckland mills thereafter preferred their wheat in bulk.

Chart 32 shows sources of New Zealand's wheat supply.

chart of wheat supply statistics

Chart 32

The supply of edible grains was adequate at reasonable prices during the war years, and it is significant that it was not until after the war—in May 1946—that the extraction rate for flour in New Zealand mills was raised. The extraction rate had been about 73 per cent. In May 1946 it was raised to 80 per cent,1 and this only when wheat prices reached high levels as the result of a combination of poor harvests and extensive commitments by allied nations for the relief of hitherto occupied and enemy countries. The change for

1 The Flour Extraction Control Notice, 1946. Gazetted 26 April (1946/60).

page 144 New Zealand meant that, instead of extracting about 73 tons of flour for every hundred tons of wheat, as had been done before and throughout the war, the millers were now required to extract 80 tons and so use less wheat in making the flour needed. By way of comparison, the extraction rate in the United Kingdom had been fixed much more severely, at 85 per cent for most of the war, and was raised in 1946 to 90 per cent.

New Zealand was well supplied with wheat during the war years. Some countries would have regarded her low extraction rate throughout the war, and her practice of feeding so much wheat to poultry, as evidence of over-supply to the extent of waste. There was, in fact, some criticism by the Combined Food Board and its successor, the International Emergency Food Council, which were responsible for the allocation of allied wheat supplies and had to approve shipments from Australia; however, New Zealand usually got the quota she asked.