Professor John Sydney Nix

What you can’t measure, you can’t manage. This is the fundamental thesis behind the inspiration, and sustained delivery, of a service to British agriculture that is as valuable today as it was when first launched in 1966.

The Farm Management Pocketbook, now in its 45th print edition, has stood the test of time. It remains a crucial farm management tool for students, farm consultants, farmers and farm managers alike – just as it has for the past five decades.

“John is a genius with numbers. He has the fastest mental arithmetic capacity of any human I have come across. The Pocketbook is a fantastic application of simple economics with detail that no one could, or can, match.”
Professor Allan Buckwell

It has been described as the most comprehensive source of business information on UK agriculture and continues to live up to its high reputation. Costings and gross margins on all the major operations of every conceivable type of farm business, from upland sheep to lowland arable, are contained in this extraordinary book.

The relevance and scope of the Pocketbook continues to grow. This year’s edition is no different, with detailed data on land drainage, alpacas and meat rabbits to name but a few added to the publication. Although the book is now managed by the Andersons Centre, its creator still retains a keen interest.

It is no exaggeration to claim that Professor John Nix is the pioneer of benchmarking in British agriculture. He has helped to empower farmers, and those who advise them, to manage their businesses better and more profitably.

The man behind this extraordinary service for British farmers comes from an equally extraordinary upbringing. He was adopted by foster parents as a young child and brought up on a council estate in south-east London.

Professor Nix biography

  • 1927 Born John Sydney Nix
  • 1951-61 Senior research officer, School of Agriculture, University of Cambridge
  • 1961-70 Farm liaison officer and lecturer, Wye College, University of London
  • 1974-89 Head of farm business unit
  • 1982-89 Professor of farm business management
  • 1989 to date Emeritus Professor of the University of London

He was the only child on the estate to pass the 11-plus at that time and showed his “genius for numbers” at an early age. War interrupted his education but he won scholarships to attend London and Exeter universities to study economics. He opted for Exeter and the then University College of the South West. The family had very little money, so he would cycle back home to London, stopping en-route in barns.

When Prof Nix left Exeter, he secured a three-year graduate position as an instructor lieutenant with the Royal Navy from 1948-51. He had hoped to see the world with the navy, but never once left the dry dock on HMS Ganges in Harwich.

Throughout this time, he had stayed in touch with his university director of studies, who tipped him off about a job in the farm economics department of Cambridge University’s School of Agriculture.

It was at Cambridge that he turned his considerable talent for numbers into a practical management tool. He gathered information from farmers across East Anglia, realising that farming techniques, in his words, “were outstripping the quality and quantity of data available”.

“He brought economics right into the heart of day-to-day farm management. His contribution to our competitive UK agriculture is matched by nobody and his impact on the industry remains clear to see today. To be the editor of the Pocketbook is the greatest privilege of my career. I am humbled to be responsible for the book Professor Nix created.”
Graham Redman, Editor, Farm Management Pocketbook

He then moved to Wye College in 1961 as farm management liaison officer and lecturer. He flourished in the smaller academic environment, where he founded and published the first edition of the Pocketbook in 1966. He also rose up the university ranks from senior tutor to senior lecturer and then reader in 1975. One of his students recalls the “intensity of his lectures and the bewildering scrawl of digits in a shock of colours left on the overhead transparency for us to decipher!”

He was given his personal chair, the first in farm business management in the UK, in 1982, and in 1995 was made a fellow of Wye College – a great honour bestowed upon just a handful of individuals.

There were few farmers clubs in the 1960s and 1970s that he did not visit. He relished the opportunity to drive up and down the country.

Although president and fellow of various associations, there is a strong view held by many in the industry that Prof Nix has not received the national recognition that fits the contribution, and impact, that he has made to British agriculture over so many decades.

Honours

  • 2014 Farmers Weekly Lifetime Achievement Award
  • 2011 Agricultural Economics Society Award for Excellence
  • 2007 Honorary Fellow of the Royal Agricultural Society of England
  • 2006 NFU Lifetime Achievement Award
  • 2005 Farmers Club Cup
  • 1999 Agricultural Communicators Award (first recipient)
  • 1993 Fellow of the Institute of Agricultural Management
  • 1985 Fellow of the Royal Agricultural Society (Frag)
  • 1984 Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts
  • 1983 Companion of the British Institute of Management
  • 1982 Institute of Agricultural Management National Award (first recipient)

      Main publications

      • Farm Management Pocketbook – 
45th edition 2014
      • Farm Planning and Control
      • Farm Mechanisation for Profit
      • Land and Estate Management

    • Santander-logo The Lifetime Achievement Award is sponsored by Santander