Land purchase and redistribution
From the early 1890s the new Liberal government took a more active role than previous governments in shaping agricultural production. Partly this was a response to changed circumstances – the first shipment of frozen meat to Britain in 1882 opened up an export market for meat and dairy products. This made small farming viable, and the Liberals set out to put more farmers on the land.
Setting up shop
It was almost 15 years after the first shipment of meat in 1882 that the frozen meat trade began to be profitable. Before that, New Zealanders felt that English middlemen were taking all the profits. Premier Richard Seddon’s solution was for the New Zealand government to set up shops in Britain selling the country’s meat. He got little support from farmers, and the idea went no further.
Between 1891 and 1894 the government passed laws aimed at breaking up the big estates, especially in the South Island. In 1892 it bought the Cheviot Hills station, which was divided into smaller farms. It was the first of many such purchases. In the North Island the government bought more than 3 million acres of Māori land and made it available to Pākehā settlers. The 1894 Advances to Settlers Act offered financial support to people moving onto farms.
Protecting the border
In 1895 the Liberal government took control of animal importation, thereby beginning border protection. However, the government itself imported stoats, ferrets, weasels and mongooses in an attempt to control the rabbit plague, and all but mongooses became pests too.
As a result of opening up land for settlement, there was a surge in the number of farmers, many of whom had little farming experience. This was cause for concern among leading agricultural improvers. Agricultural and Pastoral associations had long criticised the poor husbandry of under-capitalised farmers, and advocated setting up an agricultural department to foster a scientific approach to farming. The Liberals established the Department of Agriculture in 1892 to collect and distribute information on farming, and promote and foster the farming community.