Biography of Dr C P McMeekan

A tribute to Dr C. P. McMeekan presented by John D. J. Scott on 26 June 2000 in the McMeekan Centre at Ruakura Research Centre on the occasion of the 25th Anniversary of the creation of the McMeekan Award.


Campbell Percy McMeekan, who was known as Mac, Dr. Mac or Dr. McMeekan, is probably the most influential agricultural leader this country has produced. In just five years he transformed a farm into a first class agricultural research centre; the research he pursued and directed led the world in pastoral animal production, he took the results of this research directly to the farmers; he vigorously promoted agricultural research, and he was responsible for the development of agricultural industries in many countries around the world.


Mac was born in Otaki in 1908, the son of a traveling shopkeeper who became an alcoholic. His first schooling was at Whangamomona. While at Stratford he received agricultural tutoring. He was one of Massey's first 10 degree students in 1928 and after lecturing there went to Cambridge to do his PhD on the growth and development of pigs with Dr. (later Sir) John Hammond. On -his return to New Zealand in 1939, he was appointed to the Chair of Animal Husbandry at Canterbury Agricultural College, a position he held until 1943. In that year he became Superintendent, later Director, of the Ruakura Animal Research Station.

At that time Ruakura was little more than a 365 ha farm with minimal farm and office buildings. Mac took four months to develop a 10 year plan detailing the type of work to be undertaken, and the facilities and staff required. In fact he accomplished his target in five years. He attracted several first class scientists notably John James in artificial insemination, Lindsay Wallace in nutrition, "Wattie" Whittlestone and Doug Phillips in milk secretion and harvesting, John Hancock and Alan Carter in genetics and statistics, and Norm Clare in Chemistry. Getting buildings erected posed major problems with wartime shortages and bureaucratic impediments. Mac rode roughshod over the latter and used every means available to get materials and labour to build research facilities. In fact No. 4 Dairy was operational before permission to build was granted.

In the decade 1948-1958 phenomenal progress was made, under Mac's leadership, in elucidating and developing principles and practices of animal production in a pastoral environment; and in 1958, 20 years after the disastrous outbreak of facial eczema which led to the establishment of Ruakura as an Animal Research Institute, the fungus responsible for the disease was identified.

During this period Mac started and was the principal star of the Ruakura Farmers' Conferences - taking the results of research to the farming community. He always delivered at least two stirring, often provocative papers, and chaired two days and evenings of talks. He was also a very prominent and outspoken advocate of higher salaries for Scientists and clashed with Federated Farmers and some politicians. At this time, Ruakura with a staff of about 120 socialised as well as worked together and again Mac was at the forefront of activities.

When proposals were made to form an Animal Production Society in New Zealand, Dr McMeekan was a member of the original committee of five which drew up the first draft constitution of the Society and called the first annual conference and annual meeting held in August, 1941. At this meeting he was elected Vice-President and in the following year he succeeded John Ranstead as President of the Society. After his term as President, he continued to serve on the Management Committee for several years. He was a frequent contributor of papers to annual conferences of the Society and in this capacity, and also in speaking from the floor. Mac was one of the most stimulating speakers the Society has known and was invited to contribute to several international conferences.

Mac continued as Director of Ruakura until 1962 when he was unsuccessful in an application and subsequent appeal, for the position of Director General of Agriculture. He then went on extended leave to take up the position of Senior Agriculturist in the World Bank's Division of Technical Operations. Over the next 8 years Mac was responsible for the evaluation and approval or rejection of loans for agricultural development in many countries but especially in South America. He had a particular interest in Uruguay, and following his death, a memorial forest was planted there in his honour. Although in New Zealand he was probably best known for his work as Director of Ruakura and for the leadership he gave to that organization, his influence was wider spread. He was one of the original technical advisers to the Dairy Board's Herd Improvement Council; he was a member of the Board of Governors of Massey College for ten years; and he was a member of the Senate of the University of New Zealand and of the Council of Auckland University.

His achievements in agricultural research were recognized by the award of the Underwood Fellowship in 1957, while his contributions to New Zealand agriculture received recognition by the award of a C.B.E. in 1958.

Mac retired from the World Bank in 1970 and returned to his farm at Putaruru. In July 1972 he drowned at Westhaven Marina, within sight of the Auckland Harbour Bridge, after returning from a sailing trip.

Following his death an appeal to provide an appropriate memorial resulted in the completion of the McMeekan Communication Centre at Ruakura in 1976. While Mac would certainly have approved of such a memorial, he would have been the first to be highly critical of the subsequent downgrading of agricultural research that has occurred in New Zealand , and more importantly the sale of sections of his beloved Ruakura for housing development.