Ian G Simpson 1926 – 2020
The Life and Work of an Agricultural Economist in England and the Sudan
Ian G. Simpson, who died in November 2020, was an Agricultural Economist in the University of Leeds from 1948 to 1991. From 1963 to 1966 he was seconded to the Sudan. He did a lot of consultancy work in developing countries.
Ian was born in May 1926 during the General Strike in Dulwich, London. In 1932 he moved to Havant near Portsmouth, when his father became a head teacher. Ian was educated at Bedales School in Petersfield, Hampshire from 1938 to 1944. He first became interested in agriculture at the school, which had a farm. During the school holidays he worked on local farms.
Ian took a B.Sc in Agriculture at Reading University, where he was a student from 1944 to 1947. He later obtained an M.Sc by thesis as an external student. His thesis was on the Economics of Sheep Production in Yorkshire.
On leaving University, he felt the need for practical experience. His first job in 1947 was on a Sussex farm looking after poultry and acting as a relief milker.
In 1948 he was appointed as an Assistant Agricultural Economist at the University of Leeds. The work involved visiting Yorkshire farms to collect data, which were then used by the Ministry of Agriculture to set food prices. Reports were produced on topics such as the cost of beef, sheep and sugar beet production. The title of one report, for example, was The Costs and Returns for keeping Pigs on Twelve Yorkshire Farms 1951-2. The methodology was crude, often based on a farmer’s best guess. In pre computer days, the data had to be added up manually. In days when travel speeds were slow, farm visits to distant parts of Yorkshire, a big county, often involved overnight stays in hotels.
In the Agricultural Economics Section staff were divided into academic staff with degrees, investigational officers with lesser qualifications, and clerical staff. At the bottom of the scale salaries were not much above a farm labourer’s wage. Ian joined the Agricultural Economics Society, attending winter conferences in Harrogate and summer ones which were held at different places each year.
In 1952 he married Morag Mathieson, who was also an agricultural economist at Leeds University. At weekends they went to Drax, where Morag’s mother brought a small holding to be near her daughter. Being a woman Morag was paid less than Ian despite having better qualifications. As a man, Ian was promoted quicker than Morag. They had three children, Philippa, Alasdair and Nigel. Unusually for the time, Morag continued full time at the University despite having children.
In 1956 the academic staff in Agricultural Economics were re-graded as lecturers, despite doing no teaching. Ian became an early pioneer in the use of linear programming and use of computers in the late 1950s. For an example, a report in 1963 suggested one farm could increase profits by 20% by cutting back on cattle and sheep using the land to grow barley and wheat instead. He gave a paper on linear programming at a conference organised by IBM in Amsterdam in 1962.
From 1963 to 1966, Ian was seconded to the newly independent Sudan. He worked as a Civil Servant, whilst his wife was a Senior Lecturer at the University of Khartoum. Ian was a member of multi-disciplinary working party looking at the future of the Gezira, a 2 million acre (40% the size of Wales) irrigated area south of Khartoum between the Blue and White Niles set up in 1920s by the British to grow cotton. In the 1960s the Gezira accounted for 35% of the country’s exports. Ian developed linear programming models for the scheme and wrote most of the final report. However, the report was up staged by a World Bank report written at the same time. Partly as a result of the Working Party. Groundnuts and wheat were introduced into the crop rotation, which previously had been dominated by cotton.
Returning to Leeds, Ian along with Morag and John Wynn, another colleague, set up an M.Sc in Agricultural Economics aimed at overseas students. They also had a large number of research students. In 1972 they transferred to the School of Economic Studies following the closure of the Agricultural Economics Department at Leeds as a result of Government rationalisation of the teaching of Agriculture.
Building on his experience in the Sudan, Ian did a lot of consultancy work overseas, often during term time, with no loss of pay from the University. He believed in teaching Agricultural Economics to overseas students, and it was desirable to have experience in Third World countries. In 1969 and 1970, Ian visited Botswana to look at land and water planning there for the FAO. The following year he went to Saudi Arabia to look at irrigation in the Wadi Jizan area close to the border with Yemen. In 1972 he helped organise a conference for the FAO in Cairo on rural development in the Middle East, visiting Pakistan, Iran and Lebanon. In 1976 he went to Ecuador to look at alternative crops to bananas. In 1979 he was briefly a visiting professor at a University in Baghdad giving two lectures there. A lecture in Mosul in the north of Iraq had to be cancelled due to snow.
Links with the Sudan were maintained, visiting the country in 1968, 1973, 1974, 1975, 1979, 1983 and 1986. Areas visited included Dafur, Nubia and the Blue Nile Province. Projects included mechanised farming in grassland areas. He contributed several chapters to a book on the Agriculture of Sudan published in 1991. He was a member of the Sudan Studies Society attending their conference at the age of 86 in 2012 raising concerns about Sudanese academics getting visas to come to the UK.
In 1983 Ian and Morag were offered early retirement will a full pension in 1983 when universities cutting back costs due to reduced Government funding. They continued to work for the University as Senior Research Fellows transferring to the Department of Management Studies. They supervised overseas MBA student doing project work in home countries including India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Kenya and Tanzania and set up a short course on Agricultural Marketing. Topics students worked on included sugar marketing, dairying and silk production. In 1991 they finally retired from the University.
In 1998 Morag died after a long period of declining health. In 1999 he married Dorothea Leser, the widow of Conrad Leser, Professor of Econometrics at Leeds University from 1968 to 1980. Following Dorothea’s death in 2005, he had a further two companions: Sonja Bermudez, who returned to the USA with her son in 2007 and Joyce Burton, an ex GP who died in 2019.
In good health into his 90s Ian lived independently till summer 2020, when he moved into a Care Home due to deteriorating eyesight and mobility. With increasing blindness, he found isolation imposed by Covid restrictions difficult to cope with. He died on November 11th 2020. His family hope to hold a celebration of his life in Haley’s Hotel in Leeds on 5th May 2021, which would have been his 95th birthday.
Ian kept a diary for every day of life from 1940s onwards. Together with a large number of papers in academic archives, these would be of interest to anybody researching the history of Agricultural Economics in the second half of the twentieth century. Articles by Ian published in the Journal of Agricultural Economics addressed land and structural policy in agriculture, linear programming and farm management, and appropriate technologies in developing countries.
In conclusion, Ian had a long career in Agricultural Economics, starting in 1940s and finally finishing in the 1990s. He was an early user of computers and linear programming in the 1950s. As well as working for Leeds University, he did a lot of work in many overseas countries, including the Sudan, during his life. And he maintained an interest in agricultural economics up until his death, as a regular reader of the Farmers Weekly.