Home' Straight Furrow 70th Anniversary : Dec 19 2011 Contents Straight Furrow • December 19, 2011 23
STRAIGHT FURROW CELEBRATING 70 YEARS -- THE 1980s
AMONG the plethora of 1980s
diversification ideas -- from
fitch farming to fish farming --
was another that did not work .
sugar industry in Canterbury based
on sugar beet.
It had been around as an idea
since the 1870s and in 1884 a certain
William Australia Graham convinced
colonial treasurer Julius Vogel of the
The Beet-root Sugar Act of 1884
was a protectionist measure. The NZ
Farmers Co-operative Association of
which Graham was chairman of
directors was formed in that year to
establish a sugar beet industry.
Although the association was
wound up three years later, Graham
continued to believe in the
prospects of sugar beet as a staple
crop in Waikato.
It was Canterbury's turn 100
After years of research and negoti-
ation the government said a sugar
beet industry could go ahead if a
current feasibility study confirmed it
was a viable proposition.
After a decade of production trials
it was established and accepted that
sugar beet could be grown success-
fully in Canterbury.
Fred Newton headed the develop-
ment group and told Straight Furrow
the group was convinced that the
crop could be tailored to the present
arable system and it could be con-
sidered to be grown commercially.
Sugar agronomists from Britain
confirmed that Mid Canterbury had
better beet growing conditions than
that country. There it returned as a
cash crop two and a half times bet-
ter than other cereal crops.
Beet could produce eight tonnes of
sugar and the leaves and crowns
left behind in the paddock provided
a valuable stock food. One hectare
would provide food for 1250 ewes
for a week.
There was talk of production of
50,000 tonnes a year but it never
became more than a sweet idea.
THE very mention of goats will
bring a shudder to many who
became involved in the 1980s.
We carried headlines such as
"Sky is the limit for mohair indus-
try" and many farmers were soon
knee deep in the industry.
Agriculture Minister Colin Moyle
sounded the warnings saying
prices being paid for the animals
The signs were there early on for
a boom bust cycle which is exactly
One of the pioneers of the indus-
try was Richard MacDonald who
stimulated interest around the
country using a traveling road-
Straight Furrow reported that the
meetings resembled a cross
between a religious revival crusade
and a Bob Jones political stoush.
The meetings were credited with
driving the prices up.
"Ten months  ago it was
obvious to us that we just could
not cope with the number of
inquiries we were getting for goats,
so we decided to hold meetings
around the country for the public
to let them know what was going
on. It was a very genuine need for
"None of us had the wildest
thought in our minds that the mar-
ket would react the way it had."
At one Christchurch sale prices
were averaging $22,800 for regis-
tered angora bucks and does
$17,000. These prices were eight to
10 times the year before.
In 1990, when the demand for
goat fibre was high, it was estimat-
ed that there were about a million
goats on farms in New Zealand -- 68
per cent of these animals in the
North Island. After fibre and goat
prices declined in the early 1990s,
goat numbers dropped to about
153,000 (71 per cent in the North
Island) in 2002, and have probably
fallen further since then.
The reputation of angora goats as
a farming option is tarred by the
1980s investment fever. Mohair
staged a bit of a boom in the early
1980s and that started a boost in
Angora goat farming here in NZ.
Good money was made farming
goats for their mohair but scarcity
of breeding stock soon saw prices
rise. At the peak several compa-
nies imported angora goats from
Africa and southern US . Investors
got behind an unrealistic boom and
bucks sold for prices of more than
The sharemarket crash put an
end to the dream.
Angora farming bounced back in
2000s as low wool and lamb
returns forced sheep farmers to
broaden their horizons.
Around 800 mohair farmers in
New Zealand are now producing
around 80,000kg of mohair a year.
THE most enduring memory most farmers
will have of David Lange is his infamous
mid 1980s comment that farming was a
Industry and tourism would take its place, he
said, and it was not something farmers would
want their sons and daughters getting into.
The worthwhile jobs would be in the towns
in high finance or the new creative and knowl-
As other developed nations had already man-
aged to do, we too would put farming in our
past where it belonged.
The comments in a way highlighted what was
to be the curse of the 1980s where farmers
were typecast as people out of their time who
complained about everything.
It certainly was the toughest of times.
Traditional markets disappeared and all
forms of farming subsidy and protection were
It was adapt or die, as former Feds president
Don Nicolson said recently.
The next blow was MMP with minority par-
ties coming in pushing fringe concerns [a
somewhat ironic statement now Nicolson is a
member of the fringe party Act]. Farmers
became viewed as not just dinosaurs but eco-
logically irresponsible too.
"National was not much help as it could take
the rural vote for granted and concentrate its
efforts on wooing the swing voters, the city
dwelling middle ground."
How wrong Lange was as agriculture's eco-
nomic importance has grown and not dimin-
ished a quarter of a century on.
Lange's sunset industry
Sky's the limit with goats
Beets are not so sweet
WE'VE BOTH COME
A LONG WAY
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