Plant and animal pests
By the time provincial governments had been abolished, in 1876, the disadvantages of importing animals and plants were clear. Thistles had already been noticed as a pest, and provincial governments had passed thistle ordinances. This ad hoc reaction was typical of the way New Zealand governments responded to specific problems.
Rabbits, perhaps one of the most destructive of all pests, were already out of control in parts of the country. In 1876, central government passed the Rabbit Nuisance Act – the first of many. In 1882 the Small Birds Nuisance Act was passed after plagues of sparrows and finches damaged cereal crops. And in 1884 the Codlin Moth Act was passed in response to an outbreak. Farmers were required to control pests on their land. However, none of this legislation was particularly effective.
Governments in the 1880s and early 1890s were reluctant to subsidise agriculture, in part because there was an economic depression. However, in this period the government did begin to explore what products, other than wool, New Zealand could export to the UK. The Department of Lands established an agricultural branch to investigate silk production and the growing of olives, trees and fruit, including grapes.
Farmers lead the way
Although the government explored alternative crops in the 1880s, most of the experimentation was done by farmers. In the late 1860s and 1870s farmers tried growing sugar beet, tea, and mulberries for silk production. Hops were grown in Nelson, and growers began looking for an export market. An enterprising Italian settler imported 200 two-year-old grapevines to Lake Brunner for wine making. Unfortunately, his property was on the wrong side of the Southern Alps for the enterprise to be successful.
The government hired its first dairy adviser in 1883. He visited dairy factories and advised on how to improve management practices and butter and cheese quality. The government gave prizes for the first successful export of commodities. The Edendale Dairy Factory in Southland won bonuses for exporting 25 tons of cheese and 50 tons of butter in 1884.