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Editorial., Ashburton Guardian, Volume 1, Issue 105, 27 May 1880, Supplement
DEPRESSION IN TRADE AND UNPROFITABLE FARMING.
TfiERE is scarcely a street in any town in this colony at the present time ■where a large part of the current conversation every day is not about the depression of trade, and the want of that article which the Apostle Paul called “ the root of all evil,” but which most British colonists regard as the root of all happiness,—money. About the correctness of the alleged fact there can be no doubt, but the causes assigned do not at all go to the bottom of the matter. One tradesman, for instance, will tell us that everything is going wrong, because we have spent almost all the money of our various British loans, and are not likely to get much more from that quarter again in a hurry. They are right, but what they urge is only quite a small part of the truth. Merely to borrow is only off the evil day, and make it worse when it comes. Others, again, descant on the large sums of money locked up in land bought on speculation, and now doing no good to either the owner or anyone else. They are right, but that is still only a part of the truth. The fact is, that to any thoughtful person who considers the circumstances of the case the wonder is not so much that trade is dull and money scarce, but rather that trade is not much duller and money far scarcer. As soon as we look at both sides of the national ledger we find that on the one side we are spending enormously, and on the other we are receiving little. We are in the position of a sick man who is being bled every day, and yet does not receive as much food as when in his normal condition. To drop all simile, the real cause of the financial depression is the fact that we awe twenty-seven and a half millions of money, on which we pay annually about a million and a half for interest and sinking fund; whilst on the other hand the number of the population engaged in farming is very small in proportion to the whole number of colonists, and of even these far the larger number are apparently not farming at a profit. The recent statistics tend to show that altogether we have only about 47,000 people out of a population of about ten times that number engaged in either agricultural or pastoral pursuits; the rest of the population, except the miners, doing little, except as consumers and distributors ; and that with only a middling harvest of wheat and oats, the prices ruling don’t even pay for the cost of growing. It has been questioned whether the report of oats having been lately sold at BJd per bushel is true ; but we are informed on good authority that even as low as 6d has been taken in Southland for oats of fair quality, and that large sales have been effected at 9d. The debits in the state ledger are large beyond all example elsewhere in the civilized world ; the credits are lamentably small.
Tor the present we leave the former evil to the financiers, knowing well
that at best they can only devise a slow and not very satisfactory remedy. The other evil, namely, the unprofitableness of farming at present carried on in New Zealand, forces itself on our attention as a matter of vital importance in every agricultural community. Farming and grazing already are the great producing interests of the colony. Last year, as we find [from the official returns, out of about ,£5,000,000 worth of exports from Hokitika and Lyttleton, southwards through the Middle Island, about £4,000,000 worth consisted of wool, grain, and flour, and that, too, after the home market had been supplied with the staff of life. Why is it then that with land and climate, unsurpassed for excellence in the world, farming itself, whether on a large or small scale, does not pay its expenses. The answer is evident. We take no pains to supply the market with what it requires, in the quantities it requires, and so our pockets remain empty because we are unable to make profitable sales. We are somewhat in the position of the enterprising young Melbourne merchant who ordered from the home country 1000 pairs of skates to arrive about Christmas time !
Just now we are all growling about oats not paying at Is per bushel. It has pertinently been asked, as there is so little demand for oats as such, why keep our oats, when by converting them into cattle or pigs we can make them pay double with ease. It has been reckoned that pigs can be fattened on oatmeal at the present time,, so that the price of their flesh for the market would be not more than 4d per lb. It is obvious that here there would be an excellent margin for profit, even without allowing for the circumstance that the flesh of pigs fattened in the way mentioned is of finer quality than any other. There is also the extra advantage that when the same flesh is cured, the demand for hams and bacon is, and is likely for a long while to come, to be practically unlimited. In the United States it is as much a matter of course to lay down a certain quantity of land in hogs, as it is for a draper to have certain compartments of his shop dedicated to ribbons, or petticoats. ; Indeed, the time has come when farming must be looked upon as a trade requiring if not from each individual farmer, at any rate from the whole farming community, the same large and constant supply of all articles of regular consumption which we expect to find in the shop of a retail dealer, of all the wares in his particular trade. At present land laid down in wheat and oats does not pay, but if partly turned to account in raising pigs, or cattle, fowls, or geese, might bring in a very decent income. And it must be borne in mind that when farming is unprofitable. the outlook for the State is of the most dismal character. In an agricultural colony, which this is in the main, if the chief producers, the farmers, are losing money, that means that the producers tnemselves are in the position to a certain extent of becoming paupers, not contributing to the State, but drawing on its resources in soma quarter.
We are persuaded, however, that no such bad luck as that is in store for us.
At the present time farming is in a transition state. It has arrived at that necessity. We must supply the home market entirely, and also learn to compete in what is the great market of the world, so far as we are concerned, Great Britain. If the Americans can send their wheat to London and sell it at a profit, although the price is raised cent per cent, previously hy charges in transit from the farm to the port of shipment, our farmers in a fair field with no favor ought, at least, to be able to sell at the same price, their soil being better, and the cost of landing far less. How this is to be done is now the problem for the more intelligent of their number. If railway carriage to stage in which the home market is easily supplied, and even over saturated. The foreign trade is an absolute the nearest poit is too high, they must get it teduced ; if freight is too high, they must combine and get their mercantile friends to charter vessels. The time has come when that necesity, which is said to be the mother of invention, must act as a great motive power, Hot long back farming required little training at first, or thought aterwards. All this is altered. Most of the more intelligent will pull through, and thrive, but the less intelligent, and less informed, will in many cases go to the wall. Till that time comes, farming will be depressed, and trade will be depressed with it, and money be found very tight.
Editorial., Ashburton Guardian, Volume 1, Issue 105, 27 May 1880, Supplement
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