Debates about farm training
Because of the significance of agriculture to New Zealand’s economy, high-quality agricultural training is important.
From the early 1870s there was considerable discussion, in newspapers and elsewhere, about the necessity of scientific and technical education for farmers. There were numerous commissions, reports and intense debates about how to establish a formal system of agricultural education.
To complicate matters, many farming families wanted their children to be taught the traditional subjects of reading, writing and arithmetic at school, rather than farming, which they could teach their children at home.
As recently as 1990 a survey of farmers found that most people entering farming had no formal training in agriculture, and that farmers had little time to spend training off the farm.
The first training in European farming methods in New Zealand probably took place at mission stations in Northland. In 1814 Samuel Marsden, chaplain for New South Wales, set out to convert Māori to Christianity through the process of ‘civilisation’, which included learning the art of agriculture. Marsden imported merino sheep from his Sydney farm, and his missions grew cereal crops, potatoes and fruit.
As mission stations became established in other parts of the country, they spread European agricultural knowledge among Māori. Waikato Māori became such successful farmers that, in the late 1840s and early 1850s, Auckland relied on them for cereals, vegetables and fruit.
William Swainson (New Zealand’s second attorney general) wrote that Māori brought agricultural goods to trade with Auckland settlers in a ‘fleet of forty sail of well-mannered war canoes’ 1. Tāraia and his people from the Hauraki Gulf brought produce to the town once or twice a year, including pigs, potatoes, wheat, maize, melons, grapes, pumpkins, onions, flax, turkeys, geese, ducks, fowls and firewood. With their profits they purchased spades, blankets, ironware and clothing from local merchants.
Farmers’ clubs were popular in Britain in the early and middle years of the 19th century, when agricultural improvement was fashionable, and British settlers brought the idea to New Zealand. One of the first farmers’ clubs was established in Canterbury in 1858, only eight years after organised settlement began in the region.
The clubs arranged ploughing matches and displays of new machinery. Local and visiting experts gave talks on topics such as livestock breeding, suitable crop varieties for local conditions, the best grasses and legumes for pastures, and techniques for crop cultivation and livestock husbandry. However, support for these clubs was inconsistent.
Agricultural and Pastoral associations
Following the lead of the Royal Agricultural Society of England, settlers in New Zealand formed Agricultural and Pastoral (A & P) associations, which promoted farm improvement and, like farmers’ clubs, ran lectures on sheep breeds, crops and pasture plants, and best farming practice.
A & P associations also established shows to encourage improvement in livestock and farm products, and to display the latest machinery and implements. The first New Zealand show was held in the Bay of Islands in 1838.
From 1877 to 1898 the Canterbury A & P Association published the New Zealand Country Journal to spread farming information.