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War Economy

Wartime Controls

Wartime Controls

With the agreement between New Zealand and the United Kingdom for bulk purchase of New Zealand's exportable surplus of dairy produce, meat and wool, the Government took control of the marketing of most of New Zealand's farm produce.

The Government took much wider powers than this. On 15 September 1939, twelve days after New Zealand declared war, a Primary Industries Controller was appointed.1 He was given power to direct production and manufacture of primary products, requisition land, buildings, machinery and goods, and ration and control essential supplies. However, except for a few special cases, these powers were not used. Smallfield wrote:2 ‘Full powers of control have not been required or exercised as, for instance, they have been in Britain under similar regulations, where farmers have been directed to grow certain crops and where farmers have been removed from their farms for inefficiency. The chief controls exercised under these Emergency Regulations have been over the manufacture of butter and cheese so that the United Kingdom's requirements for cheese could be met, over the sale of fat stock, seeds, and other essential supplies such as machinery, wire, etc., and rationing and manufacture of fertilisers.’

The Department of Agriculture, in the first months of war, established Primary Production Councils. Initially advisory bodies, these councils were later given some measure of administrative responsibility. Ultimately there were thirty-seven Councils, whose membership included voluntary members as well as local officers of the Department of Agriculture. Their work was co-ordinated by a National Council in Wellington. In the main, the administrative job of the councils was to ration supplies such as farm machinery, tractors, petrol, tyres and tubes, fertilisers, fencing wire, wire-netting and gumboots.

Once labour became short, farming, along with other industries, had to depend on the Director of Manpower to maintain an adequate labour supply. This dependence became even more apparent once power was taken, in January 1942, to direct labour to essential industries. Here, potentially, was the ultimate power in the Government's hands to control any industry.3 Farming, except in the early days of war, when labour was not really scarce, received preferred

1 Under the Primary Industries Emergency Regulations 1939.

2 P. W. Smallfield in ‘Wartime Farming’, published in Farming in New Zealand, Department of Agriculture Bulletin No. 279, p. 65.

3 In manufacturing and construction, particularly, the tendency was, naturally, to direct labour to establishments which undertook war contracts. If, on occasions, this amounted to coercion to accept war contracts, such a practice does not seem to be too far removed from the purpose of manpower direction. (See also p. 163).

page 185 treatment and can hardly be said to have been controlled through this power in the Government's hands. The industry was not declared essential, a pre-requisite cloak of responsibility which other industries had to wear before labour was directed to them.1
black and white photograph of ship being loaded

fertiliser loading installations, nauru island
New Zealand's main source of phosphates, Nauru and Ocean Islands, were occupied by the Japanese in August 1942

black and white photograph of phosphate rock store

processing fertiliser in new zealand
Imported phosphate rock ready for conveyance by grab to the crushing mill

black and white photograph of phosphate quarry

fertiliser shortage
With overseas supplies greatly reduced, the phosphate quarries at Clarendon, Otago, were reopened and helped to maintain a ration of fertiliser

black and white photograph of dairy maid

wartime dairy farming
A Maori girl ready to start milking. Dairying was the main source of food exports to Britain.

black and white photograph of soldiers working on farm

manpower shortages on farms
Servicemen assisting with the harvest

black and white photograph of soldiers working on farm

services vegetable production
The scheme produced 84 million pounds of vegetables for New Zealand and United States forces

black and white photograph of cabbage factory

vegetables for the pacific
Women at a Pukekohe factory coring cabbages for dehydration

black and white photograph of flax processing

linen flax—a special undertaking
Interruption in European supplies forced the United Kingdom

Thus, in the main, wartime controls over farming were restricted to marketing, rationing of some scarce supplies, and limited direction over production in one or two exceptional circumstances such as the butter to cheese switch in 1941 and its reversal two years later.2

1 In many cases, directed workers would have had to live in farmers' homes. See also p. 194.

2 See also p. 199.