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The Super State: The Political Economy of Phosphate Fertilizer Use in South Australia, 1880–1940

Der „Super“-Staat: Die politische Ökonomie der Nutzung von Phosphordünger in Südaustralien, 1880–1940
Derek Byerlee


From 1882 to 1910 superphosphate was almost universally adopted by wheat farmers in South Australia. A supply chain perspective is used to link the mining of phosphate rock in distant Pacific islands to the final application of superphosphate in the fields of Australian wheat farmers. Farmers and private manufacturers led the adoption stage in the context of a liberal market regime and the role of the state at this stage was limited although strategic. After 1920, the role of the state in the industry sharply increased in all phases of the industry. A political economy perspective is used to analyse state-ownership of raw material supplies and protectionist policies to manufacturers that resulted in high prices in Australia by 1930. Numerous government reviews pitted the interests of farmers and manufacturers leading to a complex system of tariffs and subsidies in efforts to serve all interests. Overall, the adoption of superphosphate was a critical factor in developing productive and sustainable farming systems in Australia, although at the expense of Pacific Islanders who prior to WWII received token benefits and were ultimately left with a highly degraded landscape.

JEL Classification: N 17; N 47; N 57; Q 31
Published Online: 2021-04-30
Published in Print: 2021-05-26

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