Manawatu — Fertile Ground for Agricultural Science
New Zealand’s soil was fertile. Early European visitors like Captain James Cook greatly admired the orderly and productive gardens they saw in Maori villages.
When European-style farming began the first settlers enjoyed the productivity of land never before cultivated or grazed by animals. By the beginning of the 20th century, though, second generation farmers were beginning to think about maintaining the fertility of the soil and to look at the possibility of increasing stock-carrying capacity, developing new breeds of animals to suit local conditions and generally taking more account of the theory and science of farming.
By the beginning of the 20th century Manawatu had become one of the premier farming districts of New Zealand. The first freezing woks in the area opened at Longburn in 1890, dairy factories were established from 1883 on. Wool had been New Zealand’s major agricultural export since the 1850s. Now butter, cheese and frozen meat were being produced for export in ever-increasing quantities.
At the same time ideas about education were transforming. More people had a basic education and could read and write and in the field of higher education traditional study of the “classics“ began to be challenged by sciences and technical subjects. As agricultural science emerged as an important field of study, Manawatu grasped the opportunity to lead the way.
Feilding Agricultural High School
From as early as 1906 agricultural science was one of the courses being offered in Feilding as the town moved towards establishing a technical school. Manawatu was “ a fertile ground” for nurturing the growing realisation that theory and practice both had a place in farmer education.
Feilding Agricultural High School, established in 1921, offered as one of its major courses theoretical and practical secondary agricultural education for boys in a school environment considered extremely progressive for the time.
An interesting insight into the importance attached to agricultural education in the 1920s is the fact that it was the Prime Minister, William Massey who officiated at the opening of Feilding Agricultural High School. The formation of New Zealand’s first Young Farmers’ Club in Feilding in 1927 was also an initiative of the first principal of the Feilding Agricultural High School, Dr Leonard John Wild. Read more about the life of L J Wild on the website www.dnzb.govt.nz.
Massey Agricultural College
From the early years of the 20th century both individuals and government were keen to see more courses available in agricultural science at tertiary education level. World War I halted any progress toward achieving the establishment of a New Zealand Agricultural College, but also reinforced the value of applying scientific principles to this field of knowledge. During the war years the only limit on how much New Zealand farm product England could take was how much New Zealand farmers could actually produce.
By 1924 a £10,000 donation from a Wairarapa landowner, Sir Walter Buchanan, led to the establishment of a chair in agriculture at Victoria University College, Wellington. A bequest from Sir John Logan Campbell led to a similar chair being set up in 1925 at Auckland University. Both Professor Geoffrey Peren, who was appointed the chair at Victoria and Professor William Riddet at Auckland, found themselves restricted in what they could achieve with no nearby farmland available to their institutions and ProfessorPeren suggested that a New Zealand agricultural college should be established in the central North Island with surrounding farmland belonging to the institution to provide practical experience for students. To read more about the lives of Geoffrey Peren and William Riddet, visit the website www.dnzb.govt.nz.
The search began for a suitable site and the local councils in the central North Island all did their best to attract the new college to their area. The Palmerston North Borough Council was very proactive in its advocacy of the advantages of the town and district and in December 1926 the 900-acre J O Batchelar farm at Fitzherbert was bought. As an extra incentive to come to the Fitzherbert site the Palmerston North Borough Council bought a property known as “Tiritea” and gifted it to the new college.
Massey Agricultural College opened for tuition in March 1928, and in that first year 84 students enrolled for courses ranging from Bachelor of Agricultural Sceince to short courses on farm technology and management.
The new institution was named after William Ferguson Massey, Prime Minister of New Zealand from 1912, who had died in office in May 1925. Often nicknamed “Farmer Bill” Massey had been a farmer before entering Parliament and actually became interested in politics through membership of his local Farmers’ Club and the Auckland Agricultural and Pastoral Association. Massey University is still today the only tertiary institution in the country to be named after a New Zealand citizen.
Research Institutes at Massey Agricultural College
When Massey Agricultural College was planned it was reasoned that there would be great benefits for students at the college to group research facilities on the site.
The first purpose-built structure on the Massey Agricultural College campus was a model dairy factory (completed in 1929) — architect-designed and incorporating the latest scientific principles to make it as efficient and hygienic as possible. This factory building was planned as part of the Dairy Research Institute which came into being officially in 1927 with Professor William Riddet as its director. Along with a facility for diary industry research planning for the New Zealand Agricultural College also included the building of laboratories for the government’s Agricultural Department.
The first Department of Agriculture research facility to move onto the Massey campus was the Plant Science Bureau which relocated from Levin in 1928.
Note: In 2002 the Dairy Research Institute became the Fonterra Research Centre.