Story: Agricultural and horticultural research
Page 4 – Department of Agriculture research
With the transfer of the Plant Research Station to the DSIR, the Department of Agriculture moved to hold on to animal research. In 1938 there was a serious outbreak of the stock ailment facial eczema, leading to strong political pressure to help farmers.
The Department established an Animal Research Division in 1939, with a station specialising in dairy research at its Ruakura demonstration farm near Hamilton. Trials compared different ways of managing herds, rotational versus set stock grazing systems, milking machinery, bloat, and artificial insemination. Wallaceville Research Station was set up at the same time in Upper Hutt. It focused on diagnostic work and disease-related research, in particular metabolic diseases from nutrient deficiencies, eradication of TB and brucellosis, and animal parasites.
The zinc solution
In 1965 Waikato farmer Gladys Reid discovered that zinc could be used to treat animals with severe facial eczema. But in 1981 this was still not officially accepted. Farmers were told that zinc was toxic to stock, and they should spray affected pasture with fungicide. However, a huge outbreak that year proved spraying ineffective. The following year zinc treatment was officially recommended. Reid, now vindicated, received an OBE in 1983.
The Fields Division (renamed the Farm Advisory Division in the early 1960s) acquired a network of research stations to investigate regional soil fertility, pasture, and sheep and beef production problems.
A soil fertility research station was set up in 1946 at Rukuhia, west of Hamilton. The Winchmore Research Station in mid-Canterbury was also set up in the late 1940s to investigate the benefits of irrigation for pasture and crop production, and sheep and beef farming. Sheep and beef research developed with the establishment of the Whatawhata Hill Country Research Station, near Hamilton, and the Invermay Research Station, near Mosgiel, in 1949.
In 1964 all of the Department of Agriculture research was grouped into the Research Division, except for the soil conservation staff who were transferred to the Ministry of Works. In 1972, the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries (MAF) was set up.
Through to the 1980s, agricultural and horticultural field research scientists were placed throughout the country, away from the main centres. In addition, 14 field research areas were purchased or leased to research local problems. Ruakura also established seven outstations to investigate animal production problems and test solutions.
Horticulture research was always a minor part of the Department of Agriculture’s research programme. However, research centres to investigate problems of fruit and vegetable production were established at Levin and Pukekohe.
In 1988 MAF was restructured into four businesses. The research and technology transfer business was MAFTech, which was administered by four regions.