Stockpiling and bulk purchase
The state’s growing role in the financing and marketing of agricultural produce before the Second World War developed during the war. In 1938 the government formed the Primary Industries Committee to investigate the impact submarine warfare would have on imports and exports. In 1939 they stockpiled imports and exports. In that year they also secured long-term bulk purchase agreements for meat and dairy exports to the UK. Throughout the war, export returns were generally high, although many farmers did not immediately benefit because the government put some money aside to help reduce inflation.
Department of Agriculture control
In wartime the Department of Agriculture became directly involved in farming in ways that had not occurred in peacetime. In response to a request from the UK government in 1940, the department channelled milk into cheese making, and then back to butter after another request in 1942. They developed vegetable growing to feed US troops stationed in New Zealand in 1942 and 1943, and linen-flax production to replace supplies formerly obtained from Europe. After the war, the Linen Flax Corporation was formed.
The Women’s Land Service was set up by the government in 1941 to recruit women to replace rural workers who had joined the army. Most of the women who joined were from towns and cities, since rural women had already taken over the work of their men. Initially, the service was voluntary, but by the beginning of 1944 ‘land girls’ could be compulsorily placed on farms. Nearly 3,000 women joined this service.
From 1943 the government helped mechanise agriculture under the Lend Lease agreement with the US. American tractors and harvesters played an important role in maintaining agricultural production in New Zealand through to the end of the war.
Erosion and river control
Agricultural instructor Lance McCaskill had witnessed large-scale soil erosion in many parts of New Zealand. During the Second World War he enlisted the support of geographers and farmers to persuade the government to pass its first legislation aimed at soil and water conservation. This led to the establishment of catchment boards to oversee river- and erosion-control projects.