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Our New Zealand Cousins
Chapter XIX

The farming industry—Technical education for farmers— An agricultural department a necessity—State of farm­ing in Australia—Slovenly methods—New products— Necessity for experiment—Village settlement—Water conservation—Futility of a protective policy.

There is in the Australian colonies, alas ! another branch of national industry, more ancient and honourable even than that of mining, and which is even more in need of the wise help of well-wishers, and the sympathy of friendly counsellors. We read and hear of much being done for the mining interest, and no one grudges all that is being done to elevate this most important industry to a posi­tion commensurate with its deserts. But what about the patient farmer and toiling husbandman ? What is being done by our universities, our govern­ments, our politicians, to help forward the grand old primal industry, and to accentuate the homely old aspiration of "Speed the plough"? Trades unions and guilds exist in plenty, by the laudable efforts of which the position of the artisan has been much ameliorated. Organizations exist, by which the class interests of special sections of the com­munity are jealously guarded, and their rights and privileges conserved. But why is it we hear so much in New South Wales, at least, of the poverty of the farmer; of the disabilities and drawbacks under which tillage labours; of the disinclination which undoubtedly exists among young Australians to take to the plough and become cultivators of the soil?

Is it that farmers are more divided, less intelli­gent, more indifferent and less energetic than the artisan and the miner? Surely, for the very honour's sake of the sower and reaper, we cannot say that.

Is it that the climate is too rigorous, our soil too poor, and our returns too scanty, our expenses too excessive, our fiscal policy too unaccommodating, our markets too limited, or our rulers too antagonistic and unsympathetic, that agricultural pursuits seem to languish? Some of all of these causes' are assigned by various authorities ; but whatever be the reason, it seems to be the common opinion that farming in Australia, as it is under­stood in the old country, does not pay. It is an undoubted fact that among the masses in general, much apathy and ignorance does exist on this most vital subject, the progress of our agricultural industry.

Now surely it will not be denied that farming is of equal importance to mining. It is certainly capable of more widespread application. It gives employment to more inhabitants in the State. It is, in fact, the industry par excellcnce which forms the basis and foundation of all others. All other implements, where usefulness is concerned, must yield the place of honour to the ploughshare. And yet is it not a notorious fact that the practice and science of tillage is sadly neglected in Australia generally ? Instances of wasteful and ignorant farming are not confined to New South Wales. They are common enough even in New Zealand. Surely if a school of mines is a necessity, a school of agriculture is not less so. (I merely select mining for the purpose of a comparison, and not with the intention of undervaluing its great impor­tance). Yet certainly if lectures on metallurgy and mineralogy are valuable, instruction by practical experts in the chemistry of soils, the laws and phenomena of growth, the relations of climatic influences to varieties of products, and the experi­mental introduction of new plants, new processes, and new adaptations of natural and mechanical forces to the art and practice of cultivation, whether in field or garden, are of equal importance and desirability.

The plain fact is, I take it, that from a broad national point of view, the vast importance of farming, whether pastoral or agricultural, has been much under-estimated, if not altogether overlooked. Mining speculations, commercial undertakings, en­gineering works, explorations, politics and polemics have all loomed largely in the public eye ; but the work of the silent ploughshare, of the meditative, unobtrusive husbandman, has attracted little notice, either from the honest patriot or the scheming self-seeker. Farmers have been too widely scattered (one of the direct results, in New South Wales, at least, of indiscriminate selection before survey), and have been too disunited, to make them attractive-enough material for the blandishments of the professional demagogue ; but the inevitable Nemesis which follows a disregard of Nature's laws is now forcing the question of agriculture to the front. Farmers' unions, too, have been established of late years; and the farmer is now becoming an object of more interest to certain classes, who see in him a convenient peg on which to hang a pet nostrum, or a handy hack on which to ride some cherished hobby.

For myself personally, I can claim to have been a persistent and consistent advocate of the import­ance of our agricultural interests ever since X cast in my lot for good in this the land of my adoption. By writings, by lectures, by experiments, by dis­tributing seeds and plants, by every influence I could command, I have never lost an opportunity of trying to rouse public attention to the vital importance of this much-neglected branch of our national industries. I have been a humble co­worker with some of the brightest and noblest spirits in the colonies ; but the most brilliant individual efforts are, after all, apt to get lost in the immensity of conflicting interests which agitate young and expanding communities such as these. The time has come when a Department of Agri­culture should form part of our administrative machinery. A Minister of Agriculture is a necessity for New South Wales no less than for New Zealand. If Victoria, South Australia, India, Canada, to say nothing of such countries as France, Germany, and other continental states, including even little Denmark, have found it a wise provision, surely the necessity is even greater for an imperfectly developed country like New South Wales ? Experimental farms and schools of farming are badly wanted, and must be founded, if we are to keep pace with the achievements of other communities, utilize to the full our splendid possibilities, and hold our own in the march of material and mental progress.

I have already spoken of the wasteful methods in vogue with the New Zealand farmer; as, for instance, in the disposition of straw, neglect of manure, disregard of draining, and so on ; but a much more serious matter is the exhaustion of the land in many of the earlier settled districts. Continuous cropping without rotation or rest has worked its usual result in Otago, Canterbury, and Southland, as in County Cumberland in New South Wales, and in other parts of Australia. The rotation of crops is part of the alphabet of agriculture; but it would seem as if Australian farmers were really, in some respects, ignorant of their first letters. Or is it that they are too lazy, or too greedy? "Soft words butter no parsnips!" Anyway, I believe soft soap is a poor salve. "Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful." It is the veriest folly to imagine that any soil, even the richest, can be cropped year after year with the same crop, and not become impoverished. Wheat, for instance, takes a certain set of constituents from the soil. These must be given back in the form of manure, or the land inevitably becomes less able to grow wheat. Disease is at once a consequence and an evidence of insufficient nourish­ment. Hence many common crop diseases are Nature's protest against a direct infringement of hg'r laws. It is probable that if lands round Camden, we will say, had been well-manured, or if farming by rotation had been practised, rust might never have put in an appearance in County Cumberland. Now, in the earlier times, wheat seemed to be the ultimate limit beyond which the mind of the farmer never rose. Even now the bucolic mind is desperately conservative, and it seems hard to make the ordinary farmer understand that if wheat will not pay, something else might. Instead of resolutely tackling the problem of experimenting, of availing himself of all the modern discoveries and improvements in the art and practice of agriculture, he too often gets led away by some irresponsible will-o'-the-wisp, in the shape of some glib-tongued theorist, who seeks a remedy for short crops and poor prices in such cabala as reciprocity, free-trade, protection, reduc­tion of railway rates, and so on.

There is a certain text in an old-fashioned book which will persist in forcing itself on my memory when I hear the plausible specifics of such Sangra- dos. It is one of those proverbs which the scribes of Hezekiah copied out, and it is well worthy the attention of every farmer. It is a promise and a warning, which is peculiarly applicable to Austra­lian farmers in the present juncture. It is this: "He that tilleth his land shall have plenty of bread; but he that followeth after vain persons shall have poverty enough."

When coffee in Ceylon was blasted by the blight which ruined more than half the planters, and nearly wrecked the prosperity of the island, what has been the result ? It was seen how dangerous it was to rely on any one staple; how important not to have all the eggs of national prosperity in one basket. Now Ceylon is entering on a new and extended lease of renewed vigour and prosperity. Tea, cinchona, india-rubber, cocoa, and other products are yielding splendid returns, and much of this resuscitated life and re­awakened enterprise is due to the experimental gardens, and the work which has been done by planters and others in acclimatizing new plants and trying new products.

So, too, with Mauritius. The over-production of sugar, with the consequent collapse of the sugar market, brought the staple industry of Mauritius to the verge of extinction ; but now it is found that coffee, the aloe, china-grass, fibres, and other products can be successfully grown ; and it is certain that good, and not evil, will be the ultimate issue of present perplexities.

Surely such lessons are plain enough for us to learn them here.

All the schools and lectures and experiments in the world will not furnish the farmer with moral attributes. They will not provide him with thrift, energy, intelligence, industry ; but if in the posses­sion of these, they will help him to use them to the best advantage, and I think it is in this way we can secure the most practical protection to the pristine profession, and give the most living impetus to the great agricultural industry.

Doubtless there are many drawbacks attendant on farming in Australia and New Zealand, such as want of capital, dearness and scarcity of labour, which act as a handicap on the struggling husband­man at the antipodes, but there are none the less grave grounds for reproach, and plenty of oppor­tunities for candid self-examination and reform- Both in New Zealand and Australia, I have fre­quently observed with pain and regret the sloven­liness and wastefulness of the methods employed by farmers in the ordinary work of the farm. There is frequently, too, the smug self-satisfaction of the incurably self-conceited egotist. Many ignorant dunderheads are too self-complacent to take a wrinkletoo hopelessly obtuse to act on a hint; too slavishly wedded to antiquated custom to profit by the experience of others.

To give an instance: I once remonstrated with one man for burning the stalks of his maize crop. I informed him they were nutritive, contained much saccharine matter, could be chopped up and mixed with chaff and straw, and when moistened, and a little salt added, made an excellent fodder, and were so used by the Germans and by the cultivators of India. The old farmer only insulted me for my well-meaning bit of information ; but a young neighbour of his took the hint, and it has resulted in a very considerable addition to his income.

Wherever any farmer has resolutely set himself to discard old, antiquated notions, and gone in for modern farming, availing himself of the use of modern labour-saving machinery, and growing such crops as were most readily saleable, growing them, too, on a scale large enough to enable him to concentrate work and expenditure, the result has, in every case I have observed, been a trium­phant vindication of science over rule of thumb, and such men, though they may grumble at lots of things, do not blame either the soil, the climate, or the country.

If we in New South Wales can buy potatoes, wheat—nay, even cabbages, cheaper from Victo­rian, New Zealand, and South Australian farmers, the natural course is to buy them, and let our own farmers turn their attention to something that will pay better. And so it is I advocate the establish­ment of experimental farms, and a department of agriculture as an imperative necessity, to say nothing of the beneficence of such a policy. There are drugs, dyes, fibres, fruits, oil-seeds, vegetables, timbers, barks, piths, nuts, roots, even mosses, weeds and fungi, with multitudes of valuable fodder plants, which are eminently suitable to our soil, adapted to our climate, and congenial in every way to all our conditions. It is in introducing these, in making these known that our experimental farms would be so beneficial. In no other way that I can see would so much national good be done at so little cost, Methinks that in this direc­tion even the most bigoted protectionist, and the mOst utilitarian free-trader might work hand in hand.

Another feature of New Zealand rural life which struck me was the frequency of villages—the nearness of neighbours—in a word, settlement in communities, as contrasted with the isolated, detached way in which habitations are found set down at wide, weary intervals, in most of the country districts of New South Wales. Indeed, village life, such as we know it in the old country, or as it is found in many parts of New Zealand, is scarcely known in our older colony. The evils of indiscriminate, unrestricted selection—the Ishmaelitish, nomadic proclivities of the roving land-grabber of the old regime are, alas! "twice-told tales" in New South Wales; but in New Zealand, especially in Otago, a more human and humane system had evidently been followed from the first. As a consequence, farms and fields were neatly fenced and divided. Village churches were numerous ; common centres round which clustered the neat homes of village tradesmen and traders. Farm-houses were trim and neat, and adorned with gardens and orchards much more than is common in Australia. Waste places were fewer, roads were more numerous and better kept, and, in fact, rural settlement was more forward ; and notwithstanding a wide­spread depression commercially, consequent on continued bad seasons and low prices for produce, the people looked healthy, happy, and contented, and I saw nothing to indicate any absence of the material comforts, and even the common luxuries of life.

For many years I have advocated that a trial should be given in Australia to oil crops. Some time ago I contributed articles to various journals on the subject, and made special reference to it in my last published volume,3 and it was gratifying to find instances during my tour that proved my ideas were not chimerical. I found, for example, a few progressive farmers turning their attention to linseed as a crop. I have on record the results of several of these trials. I find that even with a yield of half the number of bushels of linseed to the acre as compared with wheat, the oil seed crop pays better than the cereal. An average price of 5s. 6d. per bushel is procurable in Dunedin all the year round for linseed, and I am convinced that rape seed, mustard seed, sesamum, gingelly, castor and other such crops would be more suitable to our climate and pay our farmers better.

Much might be written on this subject, but the space at my disposal is limited. New Zealand is so bountifully endowed with that merciful gift of heaven—water—that she has an undeniable superiority over us in this drought-infested colony of New South Wales; but this is 'only another argument to strengthen my contention that we do not utilize our gifts to the full as we might.

Water conservation might well go hand in hand with the experimental work of an agricultural department. As an instance of what private enterprise can accomplish, I may mention that in the far west now, I am privileged to be a co­worker with a public-spirited and wealthy land owner, and on rich soil, such as we have for count­less leagues on our great western plains, he is now irrigating and preparing land for sowing with tropical crops, and the result may be the in­troduction of several new and remunerative industries.

With irrigation, a plentiful supply of agricul­tural labour, intelligent experiment and collation of facts and dissemination of information under a well-organized and active agricultural department, a liberal land system, which will seek to minimize harassing restrictions and exactions, and give fixity of tenure with compensation for all improve­ments by which the value of the land would be permanently enhanced, such as dams, tanks, wells, &c.—the lot of the farmer in New South Wales might be enormously advantaged, and it is in this direction that the friends of the farmer must work, and the hare-brained twaddle we hear about a protective policy for the farmer, which would tax him heavily on every implement of husbandry for the benefit of an insignificant section of weak-kneed manufacturers, which would seek to force him into a continuance of his present unequal fight with Nature, in which he vainly tries to grow products for which his soil and climate are not so well adapted as those of his competitors in more favoured neighbourhoods, and which, in a word, seeks to sap his energies, rouse his worst passions, inflame his discontent, and make him less self-reliant and enterprising, instead of encouraging him to patient investigation and intelligent experiment. All this irresponsible chatter, I repeat, by imprac­ticable theorists and hobbyists, all the protection conventions, vain-glorious challenges to public debate, and organized stumping of the country by fluent farmers' friends, who perhaps don't know the difference between a plough and a pickaxe, would not do one tithe the good that one experi­mental farm would do. In fact, by distracting men's attention from practical measures, and rais­ing clouds of dust on theoretical issues for purely personal political ends, these self-dubbed saviours of the farming interest do irremediable harm..They are only meditating. How long they will meditate before they will act it is impossible to say.

1 Camden, a beautiful district in County Cumberland, New South Wales, is one of the earliest settled parts of the colony. It was here that wheat-growing was first introduced into Australia, and for years the rich soil gave returns so enormous, that the farmers in their foolishness cropped the soil to death. Subsequently rust made its appearance, and for many years wheat-growing has been abandoned, mills lie empty, silent, and unused, and sorrel, briars and weeds have taken the place of the golden leagues of waving grain. The farmers too grew lazy and inert. Fruit and grape growing has been tried latterly, but at the present moment phylloxera has made its appearance in some few vineyards in the district, and the Government are meditating measures for its extirpation.

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