Prestigious award for assisting Chinese agriculture

Dr Phil Rolston

AgResearch scientist Dr Phil Rolston has been awarded the Chinese government’s most prestigious science award for his contributions to agriculture in China.

Dr Rolston, Senior Scientist in the Forage Breeding team at AgResearch Lincoln, received the International Science and Technology Co-operation Award of the People’s Republic of China in Beijing last Friday.

The ceremony in The Great Hall of the People was attended by more than 3,000 people, including President Xi Jinping, Vice Premier Li Keqiang, Minister of Science of Technology Wan Gang, and several other leading officials.

The award is China’s highest for foreign scientists, and has been presented to only 94 foreign scientists and two international organisations since its inception in 1995. Seven foreigners received awards this year, including Russian Nobel laureate Zhores I. Alferov.

Dr Rolston is an internationally renowned scientist in forage seed production, grassland farming systems and pastoral agronomy and has been actively involved in 30 R&D projects on grassland and livestock production in China since the early 1980s. He has also been instrumental in introducing New Zealand-style grassland farming systems and techniques to western China.

Outgoing Ambassador to China, Carl Worker, said the impact of Dr Rolston’s work in China had been significant.

“Huge areas that used to be almost desert now resemble New Zealand green pasture, with significant improvement in productivity and farmer incomes. This is as a result of Phil’s great work.”

Dr Rolston worked with Lanzhou University, the Guizhou Agriculture Commission and other organisations to improve soil fertility through plant selection pasture establishment and management and in doing so improved environmental and economic performance in the region. He also assisted Lanzhou University and other institutions to develop forage seed science research and he has trained significant numbers of Chinese technical staff which has enhanced research capacity and accelerated grassland agriculture production in China.

He supervised the establishment of the first grazing type dairy farm in Karst region which is still a successful model after more than 20 years of use.

The award was recommended and sponsored by the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in New Zealand, College of Pastoral Agriculture Science & Technology, Lanzhou University supported by the Guizhou Agriculture Commission.

“This is a tremendous honour for Dr Rolston, and a great acknowledgement of New Zealand’s long and significant science linkages with China. It is comparable to receiving a knighthood in a foreign country,” says Al Ross, Science & Innovation Counsellor at the New Zealand Embassy in Beijing.

Dr Rolston said he was delighted at receiving the award.

“My involvement in China began in 1983 in the southwest province of Guizhou where a group of New Zealanders were contracted by the Chinese government to establish a model farm at Dushan. At the time I was with DSIR Grasslands Division and the Director, Dr Ray Brougham, was involved in the project and got me involved.

“Thirty years and 60 visits later, it certainly was a humbling and exciting experience to participate in a ceremony run by the Premier and with so many participants in the Great Hall of the People in Tiananmen Square.”

Director of Research at AgResearch Professor Warren McNabb said the organisation was immensely proud of Dr Rolston’s achievement.

“This is fantastic recognition of Phil’s important work over a sustained period of time and it also highlights the strong relationship between China and New Zealand in the field of science and technology.”

Dr Rolston’s brief visit to China for the award presentation also provided an opportunity to inspect and advise on further pastoral development in China’s provinces.