The Ashburton Guardian. Magna Est Veritas et Prevalebit. MONDAY, JULY 4, 1881. Farmers’ Co-operative Associations.
TOWN EDITION. [.lssued at A3O p.m.]
From our contemporary, the Christchurch Telegraph, we learn that last week the Amberley Farmers’ Club, the latest formed of the farmers’ clubs in Canterbury, has been the first to form itself into a Farmers’ Co-operative Association, for the purpose of shipping grain direct to the Home country or elsewhere without the intervention of the Christchurch grain merchants. Great credit is due to our contemporary for the energetic manner in which it has recently called public attention to the important subject of co-operation as one of the most powerful factors of national prosperity. And although, with regard to the particular enterprise which we have just referred to, namely, co-operation in shipments of grain, the extent of the advantage gained may be a little over-estimated, the importance of the principle involved has not been and cannot well be. To any careful student of political economy scarcely any doubt can exist that co-operation occupies a position only second in importance to competition, although the latter has hitherto almost exclusively occupied the attention of the ablest writers on the subject, and of the wisest authorities among British statesmen. On this large question, however, we cannot dwell at present, but we shall confine our observations to the advantageous effect of co-operation in direct shipment of grain by our farmers, instead of continuing the system at present in force. In doing so we may remark, at the outset, that though it is the fact, as often urged by our farmers, that they themselves toil ceaselessly from one year’s end to another with very scanty
remuneration, whilst the grain-buyers in the city, with far less exertion, and with little risk, become rapidly rich men, we do not charge the grain merchants with unjust, far less with fraudulent dealing. Had they been thus guilty, long before now their malpractises would have been exposed and themselves held up to public reprobation. But this has not been the case. They have merely availed themselves of certain established methods of trade, which work in their favor at the expense of the farming community. A little examination of the present method of doing business in grain will make it clear that by means of co-operation farmers may save a good deal of what they lose by the existing mode. Firstly, then, the farmer loses the profit which the merchant makes as a speculation in his purchases. The market prices are at the opening of the grain season fixed by a general consensus of opinion among the merchants as to what is the highest price which they can afford to give, so as to yield a tolerably certain profit in the re-sale in the Home matket, or in shipments made abroad. Under the co-operative system the farmer becomes his own merchant, and thus saves altogether this, which is, we believe, the largest item in the grain merchant’s profit. In fact, the farmer saves the speculator’s average profit in buying at the nominal and selling at the real val&e. Then, secondly, under the co-operative system, the farmer saves a large part — how much depends upon the greater or less excellence of the arrangements of the Co-operative Association he belongs to —of the commission he pays the merchant for shipping on his account, in those cases in which he wishes to ship instead of selling in the Christchurch market. Of course he will have to pay something for the time and trouble of the Association’s shipping agent; but where the business is as it would be, on a very large scale, the rate of payment would probably not amount to 5 per cent., or anything like it, and he would save the difference. Then, thirdly, in the case of an advance being required on the grain shipped, as would very often be the case, from the comparative impecuniosity of the producer, he would not, as at present, pay interest at the rate of 10 per cent. The merchant himself does not pay that rate to his banker for the accommodation which he received, but 3 or 4 per cent. less. Now, as a tolerably strong Association would have as good accommodation from their bankers as the individual merchants get at present, this different of per centage would be a clear gain. Then, fourthly, another source of saving would be in the prices realized in the Home market by an agent whose appointment would depend upon the extent to which he did justice to his constituents. It is notorious that at present consignees frequently sacrifice goods, and yet their peccadilloes in this respect are tolerated because they are useful in other ways, as in influencing consignments, &c. We know of a case which occurred in Christchurch within the past year, where two lots of oats of similar quality were shipped by the same firm at the same time to two different consignees in the London market, and the result was in one case a profit of L6OO, and in the other case a profit of nothing at all. It is clear that the London agent of a Co-operative Association, as a paid servant of a company, would have but one interest, and that would be to do his best for his principles. The above would be the principal sources of saving by shipments through a Co-operative Association instead of sales to the grain merchant or shipments through his hands. There might be also savings in some other ways, as for instance on the freight on whole cargoes in chartered ships as compared with the freight on ordinary shipments as at present. But enough has been shown, we submit, that to prove that by means of co-operation the farmer may save a good deal of what he at present loses. This is a most important consideration. Much has been said at various times about the importance of particular classes of the community as being the “bone and sinew” of a colony. We maintain that beyond all questions, to any man who thinks, the farmer occupies that position. In a new colony the material prosperity depends upon the value of the production as compared with the number of individuals among whom that production is to be directly or indirectly shared, and as in New Zealand the chief producer by far is the farmer or grazier, his class is really of more importance than any other. Nevertheless, at present his occupation is a laborious one, and one which only a close economy can render successful. Such being the case, it becomes every farmer to pay careful attention to any chance afforded, like that now available, through Co-opera-tive Associations to make a saving of a large percentage of his income.