Skip to main content
Browse the 1966 Encyclopaedia of New Zealand
Graphic: An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 1966.


This information was published in 1966 in An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock. It has not been corrected and will not be updated.

Up-to-date information can be found elsewhere in Te Ara.



Early Self-contained Arable System

The early European settlers who came to New Zealand last century were familiar with agriculture as practised in their home countries and followed similar methods here. Broadly speaking, their system was a self-contained arable one, including areas in grain, with roots as a supplementary food for stock, and some pasture. Oats were grown as feed for the working horses and a little pasture hay was made. The pastures were of nondescript type and usually deteriorated rapidly. No fertilisers were applied. The following statistics relate to farming in the Auckland Province in 1855 and give some idea of the system followed:

Area fenced 43,761 acres
Wheat 1,224 acres
Oats 2,108 acres
Potatoes 2,124 acres
Pasture 19,662 acres

In many places this system was not a success. The cash cropping and continued cultivation inherent in the plan depleted the supply of plant nutrients and organic matter in the soil, and declining fertility frequently resulted. Where the natural fertility of the land was low, production could not be sustained at a profitable level. Towards the end of the century it became known in New Zealand that artificial fertilisers were in use overseas and were proving successful in replenishing and building up the supply of plant nutrients in impoverished and naturally infertile soils. In 1904 the first fertiliser trials in the Waikato district were laid down by the Department of Agriculture, a phosphatic fertiliser, basic slag, being used. Excellent responses were obtained and a new era in farming techniques was opened up.