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War Economy

Needs of the United Kingdom

Needs of the United Kingdom

In the immediate pre-war years, British farming supplied only about 30 per cent of her food requirements. Seventy per cent came from overseas, either as food or as feeding stuffs for livestock. About half of all meat used and 91 per cent of butter came from overseas.1

Before and during the war, efforts were made to expand United Kingdom farm production. Dr Hamilton wrote:2 ‘As war-clouds gathered over Europe, a vigorous, if somewhat belated, policy of restoring British agriculture to full productive capacity was undertaken and subsidies were given for the ploughing up of old and worn-out grasslands, for drainage, and other types of land-improvement work.’

However, these changes could not do much to reduce dependence on imported supplies and it is not surprising that, within a few days of the outbreak of war, the United Kingdom had safeguarded part of her overseas supplies by entering into bulk purchase contracts to take New Zealand's exportable surplus of most farm products.3

As early as 1937, the New Zealand and United Kingdom governments had discussed arrangements for the production and shipping of the greatest possible quantity of foodstuffs to feed the people in Britain in the event of war. There was already a precedent for wartime bulk purchasing arrangements. Export surpluses of meat, wool, cheese and butter had been purchased by the United Kingdom Government during the First World War.

When the necessity arose again, a quarter of a century later, negotiations and purchasing arrangements were made easier by the fact that the introduction of the guaranteed price for dairy products, in the 1936–37 season, had necessitated bulk purchasing arrangements for these commodities. The Marketing Department, already in existence for this purpose, now provided, ready-made, the machinery for bulk purchase and shipment of farm products under the wartime contracts.

In the 1914–18 war, bulk purchasing arrangements had commenced for meat and cheese in 1915, for wool in 1916 and for butter late in 1917. In 1939, bulk purchasing agreements for all these commodities were concluded within two weeks of the outbreak of war.

page 184

1 Keith A. H. Murray, History of the Second World War—Agriculture, p. 38.

2 W. M. Hamilton, The Dairy Industry in New Zealand, p. 14.

3 See p. 41.