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War Economy

A Bad Season in 1943–44 and the Introduction of Rationing

A Bad Season in 1943–44 and the Introduction of Rationing

The 1943–44 season started badly, with unfavourable weather and heavy lambing losses. Butterfat production was to be the lowest since 1931–32 and more than 10 per cent below the average of the four previous seasons. With Pacific forces to be supplied and the United Kingdom already on very short rations, this was a severe blow to the allied economic war effort.

A Wellington daily paper summed up the situation in October 1943:1

‘The adverse weather conditions that have prevailed since the commencement of the 1943–44 season must have a very serious effect on production. The national income will be reduced and there will be other unwelcome results, but to most people the really vital aspect will be the possible reduction in the capacity of the Dominion to provide the British food authorities with

1 Dominion, second leader, 16 October 1943.

page 203 foodstuffs which they look to us to supply. Last production year our exports of butter fell by 84,700 cwts, and cheese by no less than 405,000 cwts, and the only offset to this adverse movement was an increase of 35,700 cwts in butterfat.1 If production in the coming season should result in still further reductions, then the position in Britain would be serious, for this country is her largest supplier of these essential products.

‘It is admitted that several factors have handicapped the producers, particularly the cumulative effects of the lack of fertilisers and the shortage of labour, but the position presents a challenge to New Zealand, as it has to Australia, and the prompt action taken there is called for here. The scope is admittedly limited, but there is one course open to the Government that could and should be taken, namely, to ask the domestic consumer to make a practical contribution in the form of rationed quantities. According to the chairman of a northern dairy association, the Minister of Agriculture, during the election campaign, placed the British requirements from us for the current year at 115,000 tons of butter. That would necessitate an increase of over 240,000 cwts on the total exported last production year, and, with the bad start made this season, it would be futile to look solely to the dairy farmer to make good that balance. But in all probability it could be done if local consumption were placed on the same per capita basis as in both Australia and Canada, although the longer the Government delays its decision the less the prospect of success.

‘On the production side, something might be done if supplies of phosphate could be obtained from North Africa. The Federal authorities, it has been reported, are testing phosphate deposits in Western Australia, in the hope that some supplies may be obtained, but, apart from whatever the deposits at Clarendon can be made to produce, the Dominion will have to rely on increased shipments from overseas. If the shipping position has improved, and there is reason to believe that it has, then the authorities should make renewed efforts to get cargoes from Tunisia, as a means of increasing the output of foodstuffs.

‘Nothing can be done to replace the losses the farmers have suffered in the heavy lamb mortality and in other ways, but the community can assist to maintain supplies of dairy produce to Great Britain. With the winter weather approaching there the need for these things is increasingly great, and in its domestic consumption the Dominion has a substantial reserve that should be tapped, with a contribution for the best possible purpose, the health and welfare of the United Kingdom. We were told last

1 Sic. Butterfat production was down by 7 per cent.

page 204 June that, if rationing of butter came in, it would apply to the 1943–44 season. That commenced on 1 August last and no action has been taken. The consumers' contribution could have provided some thousands of tons in the period that has been allowed to elapse with nothing being done.’

Butter rationing was introduced in October 1943 and meat rationing in March 1944, both to continue, with varying intensity, until after the war. Butter consumption in New Zealand fell, as a result, from 48 lb a head in 1942–43 to 36 lb a head in 1944–45 and 31 lb a head in 1945–46.1 Similar figures for meat are not available for the war years; however, the following extract from the 1945 Official Yearbook2 gives some idea of the order of the extra exports made possible by rationing: ‘It is anticipated that the present (October, 1945) scale of meat rationing in New Zealand will enable an additional 35,000 tons of meat (per year) to be exported as compared with the position before meat rationing was introduced.’

The same Yearbook contains an estimate of the extra exports made available by rationing of dairy produce: ‘As a result of the present (October, 1945) restrictions on the consumption of butter and cream, it is anticipated that an additional 15,000 tons of butter per year will be available for export as compared with the position obtaining before the restrictions were applied….’

1 New Zealand Dairy Board Annual Report, 1960, p. 40.

2 p. 603.