From Grain and Cows... to Vegetables and Wine
Over the years land use on the Waimea Plains has changed to meet changing markets and lifestyles. In the early days of Pākehā settlement, grains, particularly barley, were grown as cash crops. After harvesting, grains were “stooked” – propped up in sheaves to dry – then made into stacks and later threshed to get the grain. These processes were community affairs, with men, women and children all involved. Barley was transported to Nelson either in a boat or by horse and dray. As numbers of livestock increased, grasses, hay and oats were produced to feed them. Later peas took over from barley as a cash crop.
Click image to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Before the establishment of processing factories, most milk was churned into butter. Some of this was sent to the goldfields on the West Coast during the 1870s and ‘80s. However the Wells family of Lower Queen Street produced milk that they sold to homes around Richmond and Nelson. The Waimea Dairy Company was established in Appleby in 1914 (the buildings on the corner of McShanes Road and the coastal highway can still be seen there) for processing of cheese and butter. In 1931 the Company moved to Brightwater. After the Nelson “town milk” factory was set up in the 1940s, town supply dairy farms dominated the plains. Today there are very few dairy farms left on the Plains. Horticulture and vineyards are now the predominant land use.
Pigs were to dairying as poultry was to grains; they could be raised on the lower quality product. After the establishment of the freezing works in the early 20th century, many farms ran sheep as a sideline. Horses were an essential part of all farming operations until the 1940s. The art and science of ploughing was celebrated in “ploughing matches”. Henry Redwood, “The father of the New Zealand Turf”, established one of the first racing stables in the country on the present coastal highway along with training stables on Moturoa/Rabbit Island. Racehorses became an important part of the local economy and entertainment scene.
Written by Janet Bathgate.
The text from this story came from the Tasman District Council/NZ Cycle Trail Heritage Panel 2012.
Updated August 16, 2022
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Further sources - Waimea Plains
- Batchelor, Brian C. 2013. 125th reunion of Brightwater School, 1888-2013: Brightwater history & district schools : Waimea West, Brightwater Girls, Garden Valley, River Terrace, Brightwater Boys, Wairoa Gorge, Totara Bush Household. Brightwater: Brightwater School.
- Best, H. (2006). Appleby. Wellington: First Edition Ltd.
- Max, G. (2003). The good old days: memories from Gordon Max. Richmond: Gordon Max.
- Gregory, K. (1977). Land of streams: life in the Waimea county, Province of Nelson. Nelson: Waimea County Council.
- Parrott, A. W. (1965). History of the Waimea Co-operative Dairy Company Limited. Brightwater: Waimea Co-operative Dairy Company Ltd.
- Waimea South Historical Society (1991). From River to Range. Nelson: Waimea South Historical Society
- Barnicoat, C. R. (1971, Nov) Waimea estuary-changes during the last 120 years. Nelson Historical Society Journal, 2, (5), pp.26-27
- Collett, G. (1998, January 17) On the trail of the great wine hope. Nelson Mail, p.7-8
- Dickinson, B. E. (1973, April). Was Tahuna a port? Nelson Historical Society Journal, 2, (6), pp.4-11
- Dickinson, Mollie (1981,Oct). The Redwood Stables. Journal of the Nelson and Marlborough Historical Societies, 1, (1), pp.43-47
- Fenemor, Margaret (2007, Feb/Mar). This is my land. New Zealand Memories, 64, pp.52-53
- Waimea West (1977,Sept) Nelson Historical Society Journal, 3, (3), pp.19-29
- May, D. (1984, June). Interview with Les Slater. [Transcript of tape recording]. Richmond Oral History Project, Richmond Borough Council. Richmond, New Zealand.
- Best Bros. and Waimea Diary Company photograph.
- Walrond, C. (2012) 'Nelson places - Richmond and the Waimea Plains', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, updated 13-Jul-12
- Tasman District Council, Tasman's Great Taste Trail. Retrieved May 2022,