Reading newspapers and journals is the traditional way for farmers to keep up with developments in agriculture.
From the early days of European settlement, most newspapers included regional, national and international news about farming. Some, especially weekly papers such as the Otago Witness and the Christchurch Weekly Press, had more extensive coverage or entire sections on farming.
Specialist farming journals also emerged. The Canterbury Agricultural and Pastoral Association published the first farming paper, the New Zealand Country Journal, from 1877 until 1898. Another early paper was the New Zealand Farmer, produced in Auckland. It started in 1885, and by 1892 had subscribers throughout the country. After several name changes over the years, it finally ceased publication in 2001. A government publication, the Journal of Agriculture, was started by the Department of Agriculture in 1910 and continued until 1988.
A writer going by the pen name Zara contributed some florid verse to the New Zealand Country Journal in 1891. One, ‘Winter’, concluded:
Welcome winter on the farm!
Let us use your days aright!
Lose no hour that’s bright and calm,
Time sweeps on in rapid flight!
Praying aye the Lord of harvests
Our glad labours to requite! 1
The journals’ main purpose was to let farmers know about new research and technical developments. Farming success stories were given pride of place. There were columns which answered readers’ questions about farming problems, and gave detailed information on stock, land and machinery sales. The earlier journals featured articles that listed and described seasonal farming tasks. Most also included general news items, sections for women and children, and sometimes cartoons, short stories and poetry. Many isolated families relied on these publications, not just for farming information, but for news and views from the wider world.
The New Zealand Farmers’ Union, established in 1902, began a weekly paper, the Farmers’ Union Advocate (later called the Farmers’ Weekly), in 1905. This paper disappeared in the late 1920s, but another, Point Blank, ran from 1933 to 1941. It was absorbed by Straight Furrow, the monthly publication of Federated Farmers of New Zealand, which was still running in the 2000s.
Farmers’ union papers had similar content to other farming journals, but also included information about industrial and economic issues.
Some women wrote for the Farmers’ Union papers, stressing the contribution farmers’ wives made to the agricultural economy. Later the Women’s Division of the Farmers’ Union, and its successor, the Women’s Division of Federated Farmers, published their own journals covering issues of interest to rural women, such as financial independence and home help. The N ew Zealand Countrywoman ran from 1933 to 1991. It was succeeded by Rural Woman, from 1991 to 2002, and Rural Women New Zealand, from 2002 on.
In the early 2000s, many rural publications focused on a particular type of farming, such as dairy, beef or sheep. One of the longest-lasting was the Dairy Exporter, which began as an independent journal in 1929, was bought by the Dairy Board in 1954, and was still running in 2008. Some periodicals were produced by businesses such as pharmaceutical or machinery companies, but there were also independent papers like the New Zealand Farmers Weekly, published from 2003.
The spread of computer technology since the 1990s has made the internet a popular way to get farming news and information. In 2007 over 65% of rural households had an internet connection, and the number was growing.
There are many New Zealand farm-related websites. Some print publications, like the New Zealand Farmers Weekly, also have associated websites.
Radio broadcasts began in New Zealand in the early 1920s. At first radio was seen as a fad, but it was soon a necessity. It helped reduce isolation for farming people, and broke down barriers between rural and urban New Zealanders – town and country dwellers tuned in to the same radio programmes and were drawn closer together.
A nationwide radio service started with the vision of William Goodfellow, founder of the New Zealand Cooperative Dairy Company. He saw radio as a way to provide farming people with information, entertainment and community connections. In 1923 he helped found the Radio Broadcasting Company (RBC), which two years later made an agreement with government to provide national radio coverage, upgrading radio stations in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin. This arrangement continued until 1931. Later, an independent board and then a government department took control of broadcasting.
Early radio mostly played music. News bulletins, dominated by matters such as stock and wool sales, began around 1927. Weather forecasts were also introduced at 9 p.m. every night, mainly as a service for country listeners. They included frost warnings in fruit-growing areas, and wind warnings during fruit harvesting times. Briefly in 1929, there was an afternoon forecast for farmers during sheep-shearing season.
Farming programmes were first broadcast in Canterbury in 1929, with the help of Lincoln College. At a national conference in Christchurch that year a committee was chosen to help the RBC set up nationwide broadcasts to farmers. It included representatives from the Department of Agriculture and farmer organisations.
Broadcasts aimed at country-school pupils began in 1931. Students in urban areas also listened to the programmes, which continued until 1987. Separate Correspondence School broadcasts were made from 1937 until 1997.
After the state took over broadcasting in 1936, the Department of Agriculture began producing radio talks for farmers. During the Second World War rural radio services waned, but in 1946 they began to grow again. Midday was a popular listening time on the farm, as long as items were kept short. A co-ordinator appointed in 1946 obtained Department of Agriculture talks and syndicated them to stations around the country.
From 1950 the scope of rural programmes widened – for instance, in 1951 readings from Me and Gus, comic sketches of novice farming by Frank Anthony, struck a chord with both country and city listeners.
State control of radio broadcasting sometimes led to political interference. In the late 1930s A. E. Robinson, chairman of the Auckland branch of the Farmers Union, had a weekly programme. Robinson was allowed to talk on general farming topics – but not issues such as guaranteed prices or union affairs. When he ignored this direction, he was told his sessions would not be broadcast unless they were vetted first.
By 1953, 17 stations were broadcasting farming news and comment. In 1954 a rural broadcasts officer was appointed in Auckland, and a few years later a ‘rurals team’ of radio journalists was set up. The independent New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation was established in 1961, and national radio broadcasts began. From this time the rurals team grew, with broadcasters based in provincial centres. They produced material for national and local commercial stations, favouring casual interviews over formal talks.
Farming information programmes from the 1960s to the 1980s included Rural roundup, The country session, Green belt and Rural report. Open country, which sought true stories about ‘people and places out of town’, was so popular that newspaper editorials and a public petition protested against its end in 1975.
In 1988 publicly-owned radio stations were formed into a state-owned entity with a commercial focus, Radio New Zealand Limited. The number of rural journalists working for Radio New Zealand fell during the 1980s, and the rurals team and Rural report were axed in 1997.
Broadcasting is also a farming term: it means the open-handed sowing of seed so it spreads as widely as possible.
In 2008, Radio New Zealand National broadcast rural news bulletins on weekdays during Morning report and Midday report, and a weekly rural programme called Country life. Some commercial and public access radio stations also ran rural news and magazine programmes – for example, Southland’s Hokonui Gold Broadcasting had an hour-long farming programme every weekday.
Television was introduced in New Zealand in 1960, with stations based in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin. Like other media, television provided the farming sector with information and entertainment. It also conveyed idealised images of rural New Zealand to a broad audience.
By 1961, more than three-quarters of New Zealand’s population was urban – a dramatic change from 1891, when over half lived in rural areas. However, many people still thought of the country as the ‘real’ New Zealand, and locally made television programmes often featured rural themes.
Country calendar became famous for its spoofs. One programme urged Otago farmers to rear haggis. It compared Otago’s climate to that of Scotland, where, viewers were told, there had been remarkable success in farming haggis (actually a Scottish dish made from oats and meat, cooked in a sheep or calf’s stomach).
The first rural information programme was Country calendar, which debuted on 6 March 1966. Its focus on personal farming stories and its informal approach appealed to both urban and rural viewers, and it became extremely popular.
Still on air in 2008, Country calendar is the longest-running programme on New Zealand television. It has flourished during changes in television, including the introduction of national networking in 1969, the establishment of the state-owned enterprise TVNZ in 1988, and the restructuring of TVNZ as a crown entity in 2003. The funding of Country calendar illustrates the move to commercial television – once funded entirely by TVNZ, it was later subsidised by the broadcasting commission, New Zealand On Air. By 2008 it was commercially sponsored.
Some locally-made television dramas used country settings to tell New Zealand stories and explore the contrast between rural and urban attitudes. Based in an imaginary North Island timber town, Pukemanu (1971) was the first convincing picture of rural life. Popular dramas in the 1980s were Jocko, the adventures of a modern-day swagman; Mortimer’s patch, which centred on a semi-rural police station; and Country GP, based in a rural community in the late 1940s. In the 1990s and early 2000s Jackson’s wharf and Mercy Peak were set in typical small towns.
In the mid-1970s, comedian John Clarke created the character of farmer Fred Dagg to satirise current events. With his black singlet, gumboots, Kiwi accent and laconic sense of humour, Fred Dagg was seen as a typical rural ‘hard case’ character, and gained a cult following.
In the 1990s the Heartland documentary series traded on New Zealanders’ affectionate view of country life – through its name, its focus on beautiful scenery, and its portrayal of rural and small-town people and values.
Advertisements for everything from food to building materials have taken advantage of New Zealanders’ nostalgia for the country way of life. The Chesdale cheese jingle ‘We are the blokes from down on the farm’ had a long run in the 1960s and 1970s. Toyota utility vehicle advertisements of the 1980s featuring the real-life rural personality Barry Crump were also hugely popular.
Some advertisements targeting farmers, such as those for animal drenches, may be less palatable to urban dwellers, but get the message across effectively to their intended audience.
In 2008, rural themes were less evident in local drama and comedy, but persisted in advertising. Farming information programmes continued, including Country calendar and Rural delivery. Farming shows on smaller regional channels included the South Island-focused Rob’s country, and a central North Island equivalent, Farming today.
Barnes, Fred, ed. Country calendar. Auckland: TVNZ Publishing, 1987.
Day, Patrick. The radio years. Auckland: Auckland University Press/Broadcasting History Trust, 1994.
Day, Patrick. Voice and vision. Auckland: Auckland University Press/Broadcasting History Trust, 2000.
Henderson, Jim. Jim Henderson’s open country. Auckland: Heinemann, 1982.
Edited highlights from 40 seasons of New Zealand's longest-running TV show, on the NZ On Screen website.
A collection of the best Country calendar spoofs, on the NZ On Screen website.
A full digital version of this important farming publication is available on the web.
Website of the radio show.