John Hodgson obituary

Other lives: Agricultural ecologist and expert on the management of grassland

My father, John Hodgson, who has died aged 81, was an agricultural ecologist whose research improved the management of grasslands around the world.

His work took him from the Grassland Research Institute at Hurley, Berkshire, to the Hill Farming Research Organisation at Penicuik, near Edinburgh, and then to Massey University in New Zealand, where he became professor of agronomy. He retired as head of the university’s school for the environment in 2002 and remained in the country.

During his research career he published more than 250 peer-reviewed papers on the interaction between grazing animals and pasture vegetation, and supervised more than 50 PhD students. He wrote key textbooks for students of agriculture, and from 1988 to 1993 chaired the International Grassland Congress. Travelling the world in support of his research, he held honorary appointments at research institutes in China and South America, and his collaborators spoke fondly of an inspiring and principled mentor.

John was born in Askrigg in the Yorkshire Dales, and grew up on a mixed livestock farm as the oldest son of Dick and Alice. As a boy, armed only with a pocket knife, he once conducted a full autopsy on a sheep, indicating a passion for research which, after school in Wensleydale, eventually took him to the University of Leeds, where he received a BSc in agricultural science, then a PhD and later a DSc.

In New Zealand John was never happier than when standing in a field, photographing cowpats and “whishting at cows and yowes”, or tending his garden and native bush at his home in Palmerston North. In his younger days he was known as a probing seam-bowler at cricket and a highly accomplished wing-half at football, once steering Leeds University to victory over a Leeds United side.

He continued his academic research while battling Parkinson’s disease. One of his major legacies is the students he mentored, many of whom now occupy senior positions in research institutes and universities all over the world.

John is survived by his wife, Ruth (nee Watkinson), and by their five children, nine grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

Dave Hodgson

The GuardianTramp

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