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Professor Was 'Hugely Influential' Agricultural Educationalist

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Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media
Professor Was 'Hugely Influential' Agricultural Educationalist

The doyen of farm management education and research in New Zealand, Sir James Douglas Stewart, Emeritus Professor of Farm Management at Lincoln University, died in Christchurch on Friday 19 February aged 84.

Sir James was successively a student, lecturer, professor and principal at Lincoln University in the days when it was Canterbury Agricultural College then Lincoln College.

The Vice-Chancellor of Lincoln University, Professor Roger Field, describes Sir James as a "hugely influential figure in agricultural education in New Zealand".

Born in Wanganui in August 1925, Sir James was a Cantabrian by adoption, his long association with the province beginning in 1944 when he was selected as a Rural Field Cadet to study at Canterbury Agricultural College.

The Canterbury connection ran deep over the years and not only in education. Rugby was an abiding passion and from student days as a front row forward and captain of Canterbury Agricultural College's 1st XV and as a New Zealand Universities representative, he progressed to Canterbury representative honours, then ultimately became Canterbury's selector-coach. Sir James coached the Canterbury rugby team which brought home the Ranfurly Shield in 1969, lifting it from Hawkes Bay. Under Sir James, Canterbury held the Shield through to 1973.

After completing his Canterbury Agricultural College studies, Sir James joined the Department of Agriculture as an economist but, in 1951, on the exhortation of his old College Principal, Professor Eric Hudson, he switched to teaching and took up a vacant assistant lectureship in farm management at Canterbury Agricultural College. So began his life's calling.

On the teaching and research side, equipped with his Lincoln valuation and farm management qualification, and later an MA in economics, and a doctorate from Reading University in the UK, Sir James advanced his career in farm management education and in 1965, after 14 busy, productive and increasingly influential years he was appointed New Zealand's first Professor of Farm Management. Nine years later came the distinction of appointment as Principal of Lincoln College.

As a researcher, Sir James had a long and significant research association with Ashley Dene Farm, south of Lincoln, where he conducted pioneering work on light land pastoral farming and particularly the use of lucerne. Among other important work in Canterbury, he made a comparative examination of profitability on irrigated and non-irrigated sheep and cattle farms. Nationally, in the late 1950s, he collaborated on a major research project examining the interrelationships between investment and output in New Zealand agriculture, which had a major influence on agricultural policy in New Zealand for the following two decades. A close partnership with Bryan Philpott, the foundation Professor of Agricultural Economics at Lincoln College, led to the establishment of the influential Agricultural (now Agribusiness) and Economics Research Unit.

At the end of the 1960s he was one of the founders of the New Zealand Society of Farm Management, now the NZ Institute of Primary Industry Management.

As a lecturer he was popular with students at all levels. He always went on field trips with them and it is regarded as a tribute to his style that large numbers of agricultural science students still chose to major in Farm Management, his specialist area, after the more appropriate agricultural commerce degree had been established. This was to the on-going chagrin of his science teaching colleagues!

Sir James' influence on farm management research and agricultural education extended far beyond Canterbury and New Zealand. He had a long association with South America, particularly Uruguay, and carried out consultancies in the Middle East, Indonesia, and other parts of the world for the World Bank and the United Nations Development Plan and the United Nations' Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO).

In 1976 he was awarded the Bledisloe Medal for distinguished contributions advancing New Zealand's land-based interests, and in 1983, the year he retired from Lincoln College, he was knighted by the Queen for his services to agriculture and education.

In retirement he maintained his interest in education and he was appointed foundation Chair of the New Zealand Qualifications Authority, after leading a Ministerial Working Party on Assessment for Better Learning in 1989-90. In New Zealand and overseas he was a particular advocate of access to education and lifelong learning opportunities as a means of ensuring social justice and equity.

Sir James and Lady Stewart lived at Amberley, North Canterbury, and more recently in Christchurch. The couple were regular visitors back to Lincoln University. Sir James is survived by Lady Stewart and their four children.

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