Story: Government and agriculture

Farmers are traditionally great exponents of free enterprise, yet the government has played a crucial role in farming in New Zealand. State subsidies, research and border protection have contributed to the success of the country’s agriculture.

Story by Tony Nightingale
Main image: Journal of Agriculture cover, 1910

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Land sale

After the Treaty of Waitangi was signed in 1840, the Crown acquired large areas of Māori land and sold it to European settlers for farming.

Border protection

Some stock imported from Australia carried diseases such as scab, which spread and destroyed Merino sheep flocks in New Zealand. Weeds were also becoming a problem on farms. From the 1870s the government tightened border control and quarantined animals coming into the country.

Encouraging exports

Refrigerated shipping from 1882 brought trade opportunities to meat and dairy producers. Governments encouraged export to the UK, and diversification of products. They encouraged people to take up farming by breaking up the large estates and helping small farms to prosper.


The government probably contributed most to farming by funding research into growing better pasture. In 1900 the Department of Agriculture began analysing soil and researching fertilisers and grasses. In 1926 the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research (DSIR) was set up to find ways to improve the country’s economy.

The development of farming was helped with subsidies and technical advice.


In 1984 the government deregulated the economy and floated the dollar. The New Zealand dollar fell in value, which increased farmers’ returns. However, costs suddenly increased as government subsidies were removed. Since then, New Zealand farmers have become more internationally competitive.

How to cite this page:

Tony Nightingale, 'Government and agriculture', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 12 April 2024)

Story by Tony Nightingale, published 24 November 2008