Great pastoral visionary

Vale James Litchfield OAM

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James Litchfield OAM studying the sale catalogue for one of the on-property ram sales held for the Hazeldean Merino stud, Cooma. Photo: Litchfield family

James Litchfield OAM studying the sale catalogue for one of the on-property ram sales held for the Hazeldean Merino stud, Cooma. Photo: Litchfield family

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Last week the pastoral industry lost an icon; but the Litchfield family loss is far greater, and the loss to agriculture is immeasurable.

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Icon is a word or title often bandied about but sits comfortably when bracketed with the late James Litchfield who died at his home, Hazeldean, Cooma, last week.

James, who was considered a wise, generous pastoral visionary and a great farming leader of our time, was 93-years-old.

Stud stock consultant Tony Dowe, who has been associated with the Litchfield family for more than 60 years, said: "At the start of James's career few people associated the Monaro with pedigreed stock and Hazeldean blood was not discussed much outside the local area."

However, during James Litchfield's time this changed significantly when the Monaro and Hazeldean became famous for quality Angus cattle and Merino sheep.

"James never pushed or promoted his philosophies in an aggressive manner but intelligent people listened, and here we are, a generation later where his policies are widely accepted," Mr Dowe said.

James Litchfield was born in Sydney in 1927 and attended the Kings School before joining the navy in 1944. Discharged in 1946 he jackarooed at Uardry before returning to Hazeldean and marrying Barbara Fraser in 1950.

He was an active member of the NSW Stud Merino Breeders Association and president from 1980 to 1982.

A decade earlier he was chairman of the NSW Branch of the Angus Society of Australia and chairman of the Cattle Producers subcommittee assisting the creation of the National Beef Recording Scheme in 1972.

A member of the founding committee of the Australian Association for the Advancement of Animal Breeding and Genetics (AAABG), he helped organise the first national congress in 1979.

In the 1980s he was instrumental in the development of Breedplan - his contribution recognized by the national launch of Breedplan at Hazeldean in 1985.

He was also a member of the Industry Advisory Committee to the CSIRO Division of Animal Production from 1980 to 1990.

James was a councilor and vice president of Snowy River Shire Council for 11 years. He was pivotal in the establishment of the Monaro Angus Breeders Association and founding chairman. Similarly, he instigated the formation of the Monaro Merino Association.

Throughout his life James Litchfield's contribution was recognised with many awards including The Howard Yelland Award from the Beef Improvement Association in 1986, the NSW Agriculture Shield in 1990, the Eliza Furlonge Medal from the Wool foundation of Western Australia in 1992, and the Helen Newton Turner Medal from AAABG in 1997.

In 1995 he was made a fellow of the AAABG and awarded life membership of Angus Australia in 2019. James received an OAM for services to the pastoral industry in 2018.

Hazeldean was one of the first beef seedstock producers in the world to embrace performance testing and were selecting sheep using measured fleeceweight in 1954 and beef cattle on measured weight gain in 1960. Tony Dowe said the widespread adoption of measured evaluation of stud sheep and cattle could be mainly attributed to James' initiative and support.

"His contribution to across flock and across herd comparisons and sale by objective measurement in Merino sheep and beef cattle formed the basis of what is now a widely accepted industry practice," he said.

Although retiring from Hazeldean in 1994, he continued to help his stepmother, Betty Casey-Litchfield, run her property, Coolringdon, at Cooma.

Coolringdon became a leading example of how to combine efficient productivity with environmental conservation. Following Betty Casey-Litchfield's death, the Coolringdon Estate Trust was established with profits from the property going to Sydney University for research into agriculture benefiting the Monaro.

On Coolringdon's Snowy Plain block (bordering the Kosciuszko National Park), he facilitated Sydney University's Professor Mark Adams' "HighFire" research project which proved that careful stocking in summer and long rest periods led to greater biodiversity than in the Park next door.

James' pursuit of conservation goals backed by unbiased scientific evidence are an example for others to follow. He was hopeful, at the time of his death, this research would be taken into account by Park management. Current Coolringdon trustee, Howard Charles, said James achieved much during his long and successful life and was a generous benefactor to so many causes and programs.

"His wisdom and determination to lead our grazing industry to become better custodians of our land will live on and his legacy will continue to influence others for generations," Howard said.

Many readers of The Land will recall his letters and the clear, far sighted thinking with which he addressed many of the issues facing agriculture today. He will also be remembered as a true gentleman who possessed sincere humility and an ability to talk to anyone.

His wisdom and determination to lead our grazing industry to become better custodians of our land will live on and his legacy will continue to influence others for generations - Howard Charles

Allan Casey, formerly of NSW Agriculture, said the following: "If I had to give the name of one person who was both a great leader by action and example and a true gentleman I would say without question it was James Litchfield."

"It has been one of the greatest privileges of my life to have known and spent some time with James Litchfield to experience and take example of someone who had such great qualities not just as an industry leader but as a person," Allan said.

James Litchfield OAM honoured by Brad Gilmour, Angus Australia chair with honorary life membership of Angus Australia in September 2019.

James Litchfield OAM honoured by Brad Gilmour, Angus Australia chair with honorary life membership of Angus Australia in September 2019.

James and Barbara Litchfield had recently celebrated 70 years of marriage. Photo: Litchfield family

James and Barbara Litchfield had recently celebrated 70 years of marriage. Photo: Litchfield family

The story Great pastoral visionary first appeared on The Land.

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