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Straight Furrow 70th Anniversary : Dec 19 2011
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 . ..a 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 possibilities. 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 years later. 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 were "ridiculous". The signs were there early on for a boom bust cycle which is exactly what happened. One of the pioneers of the indus- try was Richard MacDonald who stimulated interest around the country using a traveling road- show. 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. MacDonald said: "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 information. "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 $100,000. 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 sunset industry. 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- edge industries. 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 removed. 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 As one of the largest independent, privately owned importers and distributors of tractors and agricultural machinery in Australasia, we're proud to supply and service renowned brands of leading manufacturers from around the world. With our extensive range of parts and on-farm service support provided through our nationwide network of dealers, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week -- Power Farming is definitely one name that covers it all. Call 0800 432 336 to find a dealer near you. www.powerfarming.co.nz 194 9 1--2011 STRAIG R HT FUR OW PF9507C