Story: Agricultural and horticultural research

From the early days of farming in New Zealand, farmers needed to adapt to local conditions. Researchers in government and universities bred new plant and animal varieties, found ways to deal with pests and diseases, and developed innovative new products.

Story by Ross Galbreath
Main image: Scientist John Widdowson examines plants in a soil fertility experiment

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Early days

Farmers in New Zealand had to adapt to local conditions, as the plants and animals they used were all introduced. Even the kūmara (sweet potato) grown by Māori had been brought from Polynesia, and needed different growing and storage techniques in New Zealand’s cooler climate.

At first, there was no research information to help farmers deal with pests and diseases or other problems – they had to work out their own solutions.

First research

The first scientific research to help farmers was mostly done by the government. The Department of Agriculture employed a biologist and an agricultural chemist. Trials found that it was important to use phosphate fertiliser on soils.

Government research

In 1926 the government set up the DSIR – the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research. It did research into farming for more than 65 years, and developed pasture plants which became the basis of New Zealand farming.

The Department of Agriculture carried out animal research into dairy and meat farming.

Universities

Crown research institutes

In 1992 the DSIR was disbanded, and Crown research institutes were set up. They included:

  • AgResearch, which researches farming problems, and develops new products
  • HortResearch, which specialises in fruit science
  • Crop & Food Research, which researches crop problems and production.

Scientific advances

Advances in farming made by research include:

  • solving the problem of ‘bush sickness’, a wasting disease of animals caused by a lack of cobalt in the soil
  • breeding animals for particular conditions or uses, such as the Drysdale sheep, which has hairy wool suitable for making carpet
  • biological control of pests – such as importing another insect to control the pest insect
  • breeding new apple varieties, such as Gala and Jazz.
How to cite this page:

Ross Galbreath, 'Agricultural and horticultural research', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/agricultural-and-horticultural-research (accessed 27 September 2018)

Story by Ross Galbreath, published 24 Nov 2008