Throughout its history, Pleasant Point township has been extremely dependent on the rural community that encompasses it. In the pioneering days, the accommodation house was established as a ‘stop-over’ to meet the needs of the up-country waggoners; the blacksmith, wheelwright and saddler to maintain the horses and waggons; the grocer and the baker to provide sustenance.
In the early days of farming, the land was grazed. Each large valley constituted a ‘Run’ in contrast to the many farms that make up the same area today. The Opuha valley was owned by Wigley, the Opihi by Acton, Totara Valley by Howell, Raincliff by Burke, Levels by Rhodes.
Then came the era of exploitation as agricultural farming was pursued and the virgin soil broken in. Wheat and barley were popular crops and as early as 1863, Acton reported that 15,000 bushels of grain had been grown in the district. By this time, the Walton flour mill was functioning at Mill Road.
Legislation in 1893 brought about sub-division of land on a large scale. Sales were forced by the Govemment’s new enterprise in opening up land. The New Zealand Land Company was ‘prepared to sell farms on its estates’ which were slowly being reduced in area.
This drastically reduced the area of the Levels Run and resulted in close settlement of the region. Men who had worked hard as shearers, musterers, roadmen, etc and had saved sufficient money to buy a small holding of forty acres as a beginning to life on the land, became the ‘small farmers.’
The advent of the meat freezing industry caused a revolution in small farming. Farmers began to breed sheep for the fat lamb trade, and alternated cropping to return fertility to the land. As more land was developed, root crops such as turnips and potatoes were grown. The local saleyards flourished with the increasing sheep population.
Throughout the years, market fluctuations have influenced the farming scene. The end of the 1914—18 war brought with it pressing demands for land settlement. Production could scarcely keep pace with the corresponding rise in land values and years of economic stress followed.
Most farmers in the district practised ‘Mixed Farming’ with sheep and cropping and many supported a small dairy factory.
The cream van had a regular beat on collection day and one or two cans at each farm gate was a familiar scene. To supplement the income or help pay the grocer, the farmer’s wife would sell surplus butter and eggs to the grocer when he called on his delivery round.
Following the Second World War, there was again urgent demand for land settlement. This brought about an even greater increase in prices with the corresponding rise in wages. The use of lime improved the fertility of the land and this, in conjunction with irrigation and the Downlands Water Scheme, markedly increased the carrying capacity of the farms.
Small seed production of grasses and clover became lucrative cash crops as well as helping to improve soil fertility. Mechanisation led to a complete revolution in the farming world.
The reaper and binder with their teams of horses, the traction engine towing the threshing plant from farm to farm, all became scenes of the past. Combine harvesters reduced weeks of hard labour to a few days’ work as did tractors and havebalers and shearing machines.
Progress continued with silos for bulk grain storage replacing the bagging of the earlier ‘header’ days and double decker road transporters moving vast numbers of stock direct from farm to freezing works.
In recent years, the fall in demand on world markets combined with increasingly high costs of production has rendered many farms uneconomic. As a result, some are being purchased by more established neighbours, thus increasing the size of the holdings.
Yet again, some have been subdivided into 20-40 acres blocks and sold as ‘hobby farms’ whence the owners commute to city employment during the week and become weekend farmers.
The farming scene continues to change as markets demand. When wool and meat prices slumped, farmers began to diversify. Deer farming for velvet and goat farming for mohair are familiar scenes in the district. Even llamas have been experimentally introduced. Small fruit, pip and stone fruit orchards are recent ventures as farmers try to ‘catch’ the right markets.
One thing is certain. No matter what the farming scene may be, Pleasant Point township remains dependent on the large rural area it serves.