Federated Farmers of New Zealand (Inc.)
(Formerly the New Zealand Farmers' Union)
In early years farmers' clubs existed in various districts. At the inaugural meeting of one such in the Rangitikei district, Dr Curl, a medical practitioner interested in farming, pointed out that farmers had no organisation that looked after their interests; that unlike farmers in Britain, with their chambers of agriculture, and farmers in America, with their ‘Grange’, farmers in this country had no union. But the farmer in New Zealand was, and to a large extent still is, an individualist. Unionism was a plant of slow growth.
The first impact was made by one Sam A. Brown, secretary of the Auckland Cooperative Society, whose advocacy aroused the interest of A. G. C. Glass, a farmer of Broadwood in Northland, under whose enthusiastic guidance the first properly constituted branch of a New Zealand Farmers' Union was formed on 1 September 1899 at Kaitaia. The entry fee was 6d., the annual subscription 2s. payable in half-yearly instalments. Formation of more branches followed rapidly and, in July 1902, the first national conference was held and the New Zealand Farmers' Union formally constituted. M. M. Kirkbride, in an opening address from the chair, said, among many other things: “If the Farmers' Union is to be useful to us it must deal not with party politics but with farmers politics and discuss every question that affects our interests….”. J. G. (later Sir James) Wilson was unanimously elected president, and G. W. Leadley, of Canterbury, vice-president. Wilson gave himself completely to the office for the next 20 years. He was an ideal man. He was acceptable to the large landowners because he was one of them, but his interest in the well-being of the agricultural industry was clear to all, as was his conviction that the road to national prosperity lay in closer settlement by increasing numbers of independent small farmers.
Three main tasks faced the new union: first, to set up an office and appoint a secretary; secondly, to establish an official journal; thirdly, to draft a constitution and a platform. The office was established in Wellington. Of the several secretaries over the 60 years the late E. C. Jack deserves mention, as does A. P. O'Shea, secretary for many years to 1963. At the outset the New Zealand Dairyman was used as the official journal; but in 1906 the union founded its own paper, the Farmers' Union Advocate, which ran till 1924, when it gave place to The Farmers' Weekly, a private venture. Then came Point Blank (1933), which in 1939 was taken over by the Farmers' Union and, in 1941, amalgamated with Farming First and Farming Progress to become the now bi-monthly Straight Furrow.
In 1905 the annual conference decided to try to gain the return to Parliament of candidates who agreed with Farmers' Union views. This policy, expressed in a demand for the freehold tenure, resulted in 1908 in the defeat of the Hon. R. McNab, Minister of Agriculture, and later secured the return of the Massey Administration. Farming solidarity promoted by the union was also the power that broke the waterfront strike of 1913, the strike breaking being organised and directed from the secretary's office in Wellington.
The First World War brought to a head many problems, especially those of the control, sale, and shipping of primary produce. New and sometimes impracticable proposals were brought forward; new leaders with new ideas were emerging. In 1920 Sir James Wilson (knighted in 1915) retired. G. W. Leadley took office as president for a year and was followed by the long and productive presidency of W. J. (later, Sir William) Polson, in which the union grew enormously in numbers and in influence. He was succeeded in 1936 by W. W. (later, Sir Walter) Mulholland, a man of wide and deep understanding of the industry. In 1950 W. (later, Sir William) Perry became president and, successively, J. (later, Sir John) Andrew, S. D. Reeves, W. Malcolm (1961), and E. W. McCallum (1963).
Provincial branches and provincial councils were formed throughout New Zealand by the end of the first 25 years. Auckland Province, always the strongest in numbers and branches, became restive at one stage, mainly because of the increasing importance of the dairying industry in the province and the need experienced in the period between the wars for better advocacy of the claims of the industry. Hence it formed Federated Farmers of Auckland. But this organisation (with related independent bodies, such as the Sheepowners' Federation) was brought into a unified structure by the incorporation of the Farmers' Union as Federated Farmers of New Zealand, with sections to deal with particular interests – agriculture, meat and wool, and dairy production. The Dominion Council, however, a strongly representative body, is the official “voice” of Federated Farmers. Its continuing interests and activities include a wide variety of matters, such as wage agreements affecting farm and primary production workers, legislation affecting land or stock, the supply of farm needs, and taxation and rating.