Saturday, December 2, 2023

Mid Canterbury tales celebrate Feds story

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Book takes as its subject regional Federated Farmers in second half of the 20th century.
A meticulous researcher, Kevin Geddes wove the facts he found in a multitude of documents into a readable and enlightening history of Federated Farmers in Mid Canterbury.
Reading Time: 3 minutes

The history of Mid Canterbury Federated Farmers published in the book 50 Years On – From 1945–2000 is everything the title suggests and much more.

“You may be forgiven for thinking I am a product of the numerically challenged younger generation when we all know 1945 to 2000 is 55 years,” author Kevin Geddes said as he addressed the launch of his book at a function at the Hotel Ashburton.

“But when you publish a book in New Zealand you must register a title with the NZ National Library and when published deliver two copies of the book to them.

“After writing the first three chapters I expected to knock this bugger off in a couple of months but then life happened.

“It took two more years and then it seemed logical to finish at the millennium, an additional five years, so there you have 50 plus five equals 55.”

The book details the journey of a bustling rural community from the rations and regulations immediately after World War II, the loss of exclusivity in the United Kingdom market, through subsidies and Rogernomics, to the turn of the century.

It shows how ordinary farmers handled the trauma and Federated Farmers supported them. 

Geddes, a meticulous researcher, weaves the facts he found in a multitude of documents into a readable and enlightening narrative portraying Mid Canterbury as both unique and a microcosm of the broader rural community.

Geddes said the idea of capturing the history of Mid Canterbury Feds began 20 years ago with people invited to share their experiences for a book.

“We had a great evening listening to war stories, which were fascinating, but then everyone said ‘This is what really happened, but don’t quote me!’”

It was then that the services of a couple of journalists were engaged. 

“They did some interviewing and preliminary writing before determining that writing the history of Feds in Mid Canterbury was a task bigger than Ben Hur.”

The project lapsed for a bit before Geddes was prodded to get on with the job.

“I had help offered on the grounds that I was part of the history now and, soon to retire, would have lots of spare time.

“We resolved the best way to accurately record the history would be to use the minute books of all meetings as our source of reference.

“I must point out that all the minute books when piled up stand over 2m high and to accurately record the history of the province, all the minutes had to be read.”

Geddes read, and read some more, and managed to catalogue most of the major changes that have happened in New Zealand farming from 1945 to the millennium.

The book describes the views of Mid Canterbury farmers as they deal with constricting regulations imposed moving out of the post-war period when farm production was commandeered by central government at set prices to enable NZ to help feed Britain.

It covers the establishment of the fledgling Ashburton Trading Society (now trading as Ruralco), the boom years of the 1960s for the meat and wool industries and the constrictions inherent in a command economy when government control extended into most areas of economic activity, to the destructive impact of domestic inflation on farming and the unbalanced impact of the Rogernomics economic restructuring of the 1980s.

From the rise and fall of farmer co-operative meat companies to the establishment of a farmer-owned fertiliser co-operative and the development of an industry dominated by one major farmer-controlled dairy company, the book outlines issues both local and national that inspired farmers and farming.

The book is also a celebration of the people who populate its pages – “people who have been effective leaders in this community and wider NZ community”.

“In thinking of the issues of yesterday, we stand on the shoulders of those who went before and we celebrate their legacy to us today,” Geddes said.

“Their principal legacy is a strong representative organisation, Federated Farmers. Nurture it and continue to support it into the future.”

Geddes was born into farming in Central Otago and went on to take over the family farm in 1960. He was awarded a Nuffield Scholarship in 1972 and moved to Mid Canterbury where he developed an irrigated sheep, beef and cropping farm.

An interest in agricultural politics saw him move though the ranks of the Mid Canterbury meat and wool section and into provincial governance. With the formation of the NZ Rural Trust in 1988 he was appointed co-ordinator in Mid Canterbury to help farming families through the downturn of the ’80s.

At the expiry of the NZ Rural Trust Geddes was appointed executive secretary of Feds Mid Canterbury and in 1998, with the move to centralise administration and policy of the 24 provinces in Federated Farmers, he was appointed manager of the grains council based in Ashburton.

In subsequent years his role expanded to include that of executive director of the Fertiliser Quality Council and the NZ Groundspread Fertilisers Association and he was appointed a Justice of the Peace in 1991.     

In 2016 he was awarded the Queens Service Medal for services to farming and justice. He retired from Feds in 2018, at which time he was honoured with life membership of Federated Farmers.

Copies of  50 Years On are available for $40. Contact

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