Free farming advice
The Department of Agriculture, formed in 1892, offered free advice to farmers and set up experimental farms and Fields Division to promote the results of farm trials.
After the Second World War the Fields Division was reorganised into the Extension Division. It was renamed the Farm Advisory Division in the early 1960s, when officers had a choice of remaining as farm advisers or transferring to the Research Division. In 1972 it became the Advisory Services Division (ASD) of what was, by this time, the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF).
ASD also ran the Flock House (North Island) and Telford (South Island) training institutes for farm cadets, and diagnostic laboratories in Auckland, Levin and Christchurch.
Spreading the word
At its peak in 1986 the Advisory Services Division had an annual budget of $22 million. It employed 670 staff, half of them graduates in agricultural or horticultural science, in 56 locations across the country.
Most services had been provided free to farmers and orchardists, but in 1985 the Labour government, as part of deregulation of the economy, directed that ASD become fully funded by user fees within five years.
The ASD was merged with the Agricultural Research Division in 1987 to become MAF Technology. In 1990 it was reformed as Agriculture New Zealand, a national consultancy service, which was sold in 1995 to PGG Wrightson.
Though now a private company, Agriculture New Zealand has been contracted by the government to provide technology transfer, farm monitoring, economic surveying and industry training.
Consulting services in the early 21st century
Advisory services are offered to farmers on a fee-paying basis by Agriculture New Zealand and a number of competing organisations. Consultants work alone or join together in partnerships and franchised organisations, such as AgFirst and Agricultural Consulting Services.
Their professional body, the New Zealand Institute of Primary Industry Management, has 700 members in consultancy, agribusiness, rural financing, research and education.
Advisory services are also provided by consultants from industry organisations, which collect levies from farmers. These include Meat & Wool New Zealand, DairyNZ, LIC FarmWise and Fonterra.
Trading banks and fertiliser companies also employ regional representatives trained in agriculture and horticulture to advise their clients, and MAF has regional offices that collect information and statistics for the government, and act as the eyes and ears of MAF in rural areas.
New Zealand agriculture is known internationally for disseminating research and technology to farmers, using conferences, field days, local events, discussion groups, focus farms and monitor farms. There are several newspapers, magazines, and radio and television programmes that publicise the results of research work carried out by Crown research institutes AgResearch, HortResearch and Crop & Food Research, and at Massey and Lincoln universities.