Sunday, 8 September 2013

Moumahaki Experimental Farm. A Controversial Start to Agricultural Extension in New Zealand

I’ve discovered Moumahaki Experimental Farm est.(1892) in South Taranaki, New Zealand. 

A fascinating story of how Research & Demonstration Farms started in New Zealand. It’s what happens when you are left alone and get lost in a book shop! A weekend discovery gem!

This is part of my history. 

I’ve worked as an Agricultural Scientist in Extension and Dairy Farm Consultancy with farmers in NZ, Australia, Taiwan, UK, Ireland and France visiting research and demonstration farms, all my working life. 

For 33 years the Experimental Farm at Moumahaki was a jewel in the crown of the farming industry. Today we debate the merits, funding and roles of these farms just as they did in the 1890s. 
These farms need to take risks, set big targets and go far beyond the practices of the day. They will be criticised and lambasted by non-believers, the unconvinced and the funders. 
Through challenging the thinking of the day, ignoring the boundaries, imagining the future and good science they progress agriculture forward. Moumahaki really did it  in the most extraordinary manner.

Over 2000 farmers visited the Moumahaki Experimental Farm each year to view the research & farm systems being tried on the state run property. Most travelled by train.
Today there is little evidence left of this historic site. (See photos.)

They arrived at the Moumahaki Railhead, were picked up by the farm staff, given dinner then walked over the farm listening to the manager explaining the research results. 

Groups of up to 200 arrived by train. Some like the Feilding A & P farmers came annually to visit & learn. Dairy Farm Discussion Groups still travel together to learn together.....perhaps not by train so much today!

The farm had four distinct purposes- demonstration, experimental, scientific and educational according to Laraine Sole’s book “Moumahaki Experimental farm”. 
The initial 300 acres (120ha) consisted of poor pasture and bush, some good flats & some very steep sidings with a river frontage. The first Manager was Francis Gillanders from Scotland.

Mr Francis Gillanders set about to establish an experimental farm that included dairy cows (Ayrshires), beef, sheep, pigs, poultry, potatoes, arable, vegetables, fruit (apples, pears, grapes & even pineapples). Early experiments included pasture establishment, hedgerows and the use of different fertilizers at varying rates. Breeding trials (with imported selected livestock) were conducted with Kerry Dexter cross cattle, Shire and Clydesdale horses, Ryland sheep, Strawberries, Mangolds, Swedes and Kale varieties.

Mr Gillanders is quoted as saying 
" The public have a right to criticise, and it is only to be expected that they will do so; but with all due respect to some of the critics, they might get a little more authentic information on the subject before attacking what they evidently know next to nothing about". 
Agricultural research funding & extension was obviously alive and well even back then in the 1890s. I'm starting to like this guy!

Experts touted the farm as “the farmers’ laboratory”. The history of Moumahaki Experimental Farm is truly amazing!

Moumahaki Experimental Farm was the very first in NZ. Few farmers or advisors have heard about this remarkable farm. Located in South Taranaki, north of Waitotara, in New Zealand it was the first State Experimental Farm established by the new NZ Department of Agriculture in 1892.

There was an “Agricultural & Pastoral Conference” at Christchurch in 1892 attended by A & P Show representatives from all over NZ.

 They moved “that in the opinion of this conference the establishment of a properly equipped expert agricultural department is urgently required in NZ. That although there was a Department of Agriculture there was no official in a responsible position who could give advice and assistance to settlers” A petition was sent to Parliament demanding action.
From the early 1870s there was considerable discussion, in newspapers and elsewhere, about the necessity of scientific and technical education for farmers. There were numerous commissions, reports and intense debates about how to establish a formal system of agricultural education. Lincoln Agricultural College was established in 1880 and Massey Agricultural College in 1926.
The 1892 A&P conference had recommended that the department provide farmers with scientific information. The departmental response was to establish experimental farms (one (Moumahaki Experimental Farm) near Waverley in Taranaki and one at Waerenga (Te Kauwhata) in the Waikato in the 90s and 7 more by 1910 including Ruakura (1901)).

The state of thinking at this time is reflected in the Governor’s speech on the opening of Parliament in August 1906, "My advisors deem it advisable to encourage the application of scientific methods to productive processes in order that our farmers may successfully meet the increasing competition from other countries. Though much has been accomplished in this direction, much yet remains to be done" (Parliamentary Debates 1906).

So began Agricultural Extension and Experimental Farms for research and demonstration in New Zealand.