November 27, 2015

Agricultural research in New Zealand. Whatawhata Hill Country Research Station 1970. Station photos.

By Dr Clive Dalton

The Whatawhata Hill Country Research Station was purchased by the New Zealand Department of Agriculture (later to be the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries) from private oweners when the need was seen  after the second world war by Research leader Dr C.P. McMeekan at the Ruakura Animal Research Station, to have an area of typical North Island hard hill country to investigate the major problems of land development,  pasture production and animal performance.

The farm was purchased in the late 1940s and work started on development in 1950 with the appointment of two key people - Mr Ted Clarke as Superintendent and Mr Joe McLean as Farm Manager.

It was a mammoth task, as the North Island hill country had been initially cleared of bush,  by men (supported by their families) who had been allocated land after the first world war.  Like most of New Zealand hill country, it was left to revert to scrub and gorse by farmers who had to walk off the land due to slumps and lack of capital and technology to maintain what had been developed.

In 1950 when Joe McLean arrived to help his father fence  the major areas, of the station, there was only horse power to pack fencing materials up the hills, and human power to clear fence lines and dig holes by hand.  Fertiliser (superphosphate) was moved by pack horse and spread by hand from a sack carried around the worker's neck.

The 1950s saw the start of a revolution with the development of top dressing from Tiger Moths, the arrival of the Land Rover, tractors and ex-army vehicles for gorse spraying.

I took these photos soon after my arrival at the Station in 1968, when enormous effort was being put into extending the internal fencing to improve grazing control and  to fly on new seed to establish better grasses and clovers.  We used to run a flock of wether sheep to pound the seed into the ground and to eat off rough pasture after cattle had been given first bite.

We scientists led by Superintendent Dr Doug Lang were out there in the summer helping to burn off bracken-fern and gorse.  Joe McLean was still planning fencing, this time dropped by helicopter, laying water supply to each paddock rather than relying on natural creek water which dried up in summer.

New chemical gorse sprays had been developed and a contractor Bill Binder with his ex-army vehicle sprayed went up death-defying slopes and dragged miles of hose through solid beds of man-high gorse.  Bill was permanently pink from the dye put in the spray to show where he had been.

Another one of Joe McLean's great jobs was to plan and supervise the making of the new airstrip and fertiliser bin made by the station engineer Neil Wood.

Further reading
Farrelly, Elizabeth J. (1986).  Whatawhata Hill Country Research Station.  A historical review.  Eljay Enterprises.

View of sheep tracks on Woolshed 1 looking towards office and woolshed

View from Back Range across the Waikato to Hamilton

Long block. Yeomans block is beyond the far ridge

View across to stock yards from airstrip

Wilson's block

Falls block and Back Range

Falls 1 paddock

Airstrip and Long block
Long 4 paddock.   North faces showing erosion caused by goat lying in the sun and digging holes

Back Range

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