John Andrew was born at Mosgiel, Otago, on 19 August 1896, one of four children of Margaret Constance Dunlop and her husband, David Andrew, a farmer. He attended Mosgiel District High
School until his standard six year, and then worked on the family farm. Largely self-educated, he had a retentive memory, a passion for reading, and a store of apt literary quotations. In January 1917 he enlisted for war service. After training at Featherston Military Camp and attaining the rank of corporal, he embarked for Cairo, Egypt, in November with the Canterbury Mounted Rifles. He fought on the Palestinian front, but was invalided out after contracting malaria.
In 1926, in partnership with his father, Andrew purchased 1,710 acres at Hyde in Strath Taieri. The farm, Tiroiti, later grew to 3,320 acres. Straddling the Taieri River, it was a difficult but visually beautiful property, to which he became deeply attached. He enjoyed overcoming obstacles and experimenting with new crops, such as lucerne, in unlikely areas. He also cross-bred sheep, improved pasture, planted trees, and trained and bred horses.
Andrew was concerned about barriers to increased productivity and was convinced that the only way to achieve world peace was by providing adequate food for all peoples. He was a member of the original rabbit skins committee set up in Otago to destroy rabbits, the inaugural chairman of the national committee to combat facial eczema in sheep, and an early advocate for the eradication of hydatids. A firm believer in taking advantage of the growing educational and scientific assistance to agriculture, he supported the Invermay Agricultural Research Station near Dunedin, and the establishment of the Ruakura Animal Research Station near Hamilton.
On 20 June 1944 at Dunedin he married Joan Margaret Bowker (née Mathewson). They were to have two sons and two daughters. About this time he became more involved in farm politics. He was an original member of the Federated Farmers of New Zealand (FFNZ), became chairman of its Dominion Meat and Wool Council (1946–48), and was a member of the electoral college of the New Zealand Meat Producers’ Board (1949–57). He was also Otago provincial president (1949–51), dominion vice president (1949–52), and dominion president (1952–56) of the FFNZ.
As dominion president Andrew took every opportunity to voice his organisation’s opposition to the government’s inflationary economic policies. Farmers feared that as exporters, unable to pass on cost increases, they were being caught in a cost–price squeeze at a time when protectionist barriers to their overseas markets were looming. He led the New Zealand delegation to the 1954 conference of the International Federation of Agricultural Producers (IFAP) in Kenya. An advocate of reasonableness, Andrew once remarked that ‘the keynote of good relations in anything is understanding’, and he strove to apply this principle in fostering international co-operation among agricultural organisations.
Elected president at the 1956 IFAP conference, Andrew backed General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) initiatives to deal with the growing problem of agricultural surpluses, and urged the formation of an international commodity council under United Nations auspices. In 1957, elected president for a second term, he organised the next IFAP executive meeting to coincide with the Food and Agriculture Organisation conference in Rome later that year. There, he delivered a major address, stating that in spite of increased productivity, farmers’ economic conditions relative to other industrial sectors were deteriorating. He disputed that economic development alone could solve the farm problem and advocated more positive action within a free trade environment to prevent agriculture from slumping while the rest of the nation prospered.
Andrew was elected to the New Zealand Meat Producers’ Board in 1957. By now his experience with the IFAP had modified his belief in the production imperative, as increased productivity often simply created agricultural surpluses. Rather than regarding science as an unqualified friend of agriculture, he cautioned that it had become a two-edged sword, especially in the creation of synthetics, which could compete with natural products such as wool. In 1958, after an IFAP meeting at Ottawa, Andrew joined Meat Board trade talks in the United States, United Kingdom and Sweden. On his return to New Zealand he strongly advocated diversification of New Zealand’s meat markets to cushion the downturn already faced by the dairy industry in its traditional markets.
Andrew’s suitability as an international negotiator for the Meat Board was enhanced by his IFAP experience and contacts. His personality and appearance were also important. Described as having a patrician bearing and courtly manner, at over six feet three inches tall he was ‘a big man who is big in every way’. He was courteous, reasonable and willing to understand opposing viewpoints without losing sight of his own principles. A major achievement was his presentation of the Meat Board’s case to a United States Tariff Commission inquiry in 1960, which was successful in averting threatened restrictions on New Zealand lamb imports. Aiming to secure more co-operation and joint promotion in meat marketing with North American farm organisations, he led Meat Board delegations to Denver in 1962 and Salt Lake City in 1964. In 1963 he was chairman of the export produce working party at the Export Development Conference and headed a Meat Board delegation to promote trade in Japan. In 1964 a United States Tariff Commission inquiry threatened restrictions on New Zealand beef imports. Although John Ormond led the Meat Board delegation, the feisty chairman left the more diplomatic Andrew to present the New Zealand submissions, which he did with great success.
In 1957 Andrew was made a CBE and in 1963 a KBE for his services to farming. He was a member of the Royal Commission upon Parliamentary Salaries and Allowances in 1961. Around this time he was offered the ambassadorial post in Washington, but ill health precluded his acceptance. In 1966 he resigned from the Meat Board and from its subsidiary, the Meat Export Development Company. Other directorships he had held included the Farmers’ Mutual Insurance Company and the Primary Producers’ Co-operative Society (Otago). He had been chairman of the Otago–Southland branch of the New Zealand Sheepowners’ Industrial Union of Employers and became a life member of the Otago Agricultural and Pastoral Society.
On 5 August 1968 John Andrew died at Tiroiti, survived by his wife and four children. He had represented New Zealand farming in a period when the terms of trade were turning against agriculture. As a perspicacious fighter for freer and fairer international trade he served his country’s interests well.