Arthur Hugh Ward was born in Spalding, Lincolnshire, England, on 25 March 1906, the son of Ada Elizabeth Burton and her husband, Arthur Ward, a publican and photographer of Thornaby-on-Tees. After his father’s death in 1910 and his mother’s remarriage, he was brought up on a farm in Yorkshire, where from an early age he helped hand-milk the cows. He was educated at Stokesley primary school and briefly at Middlesbrough High School, then worked as a cost accountant after leaving school.
In 1926 he came to New Zealand, where he worked on dairy farms in the Bay of Plenty, becoming an associate chartered accountant through a correspondence course. This equipped him for the position of company secretary in 1929 to the New Zealand Co-operative Herd Testing Association and the Auckland Herd Improvement Association, where he became so interested in dairy cattle breeding that he began to study genetics.
On 6 January 1936, at her parents’ home in Auckland, he married Jean Bannatyne Mueller, a university graduate and a secondary school teacher; her support was a great influence in Ward’s later career. That year he was appointed to the New Zealand Dairy Board as a technical officer in the newly established Herd Recording Department in Wellington. His expanding knowledge of genetics, supplemented by a study of statistics, led him to collect data on the milk production yields of cows to assess the merits of the paternal bulls. The results of the sire survey scheme formed the database that became the foundation for the consequent work on artificial insemination. As a recognised world leader in this field, Ward presented the key paper on dairy cattle breeding to the Seventh International Genetical Congress at Edinburgh in 1939.
In 1941 he was a foundation member of the New Zealand Society of Animal Production, a forum where research scientists, breeders, farmers and advisory officers could put together practical policies for improved production on farms. He was also a foundation member of the New Zealand Association of Scientific Workers and the New Zealand Institute of Agricultural Science (of which he was later made a fellow). In 1943 he was appointed to the Milk Commission, which inquired into the milk supply to the four main cities. He developed the consulting field officer service of the Herd Recording Department and became its director in 1945 after it had been transformed into the Herd Improvement Department.
From a series of farm surveys Ward produced the first quantified report on the cost of herd wastage through diseases such as mastitis, and through sterility and contagious abortion. His study of farm costs and the number of labour units required to maintain productivity demonstrated that handstripping (removing any remaining milk from cows after machine milking) was unnecessary. This proved a boon in the labour shortage years of the Second World War: time in the milking shed was reduced and the number of cows milked in a given time markedly increased.
The Labour government had in 1936 introduced a guaranteed price for butter and cheese to ensure farmers and their families had a reasonable standard of living. The price was negotiated on or before the start of the season and was paid regardless of what the commodities realised on the export market. In addition, the Primary Products Marketing Department was set up to take over the international marketing of butter and cheese, confining the Dairy Board to a minor role. Ward’s surveys of dairy farm costs had a direct bearing on the annual negotiations fixing the guaranteed price, and he soon took over the economic section of the Dairy Board’s work. In 1946 and 1947 he was an adviser to the board and the New Zealand government in discussions on the conclusion of the wartime bulk purchase contract with the British government.
After the security of the wartime contract, the post-war climate for dairy exports was increasingly uncertain. The guaranteed price remained, but in 1947 the New Zealand Dairy Products Marketing Commission was set up, which returned to the industry some input into the overseas marketing of its milk-fat products. When Ward became general manager of the Dairy Board in 1954, its main emphasis was still on production issues. However, the bulk purchase of dairy products by Britain ended in the 1954–55 season, which was also disastrous for the industry due to drought and dock strikes. The guaranteed price became an angry issue between the farmers and the government, which was forced to make a large payout. As a result, in 1957 the Dairy Products Prices Authority was established and given the New Zealand Dairy Products Marketing Commission’s price-fixing powers. In 1961 all functions of the board, the commission and the prices authority were merged in the New Zealand Dairy Production and Marketing Board, within which Ward continued to manage the production side.
In 1964 he was appointed sole general manager with a strong team to meet the challenges of increased factory amalgamation, product diversification at home and an urgent search for wider markets abroad. These remained issues of major concern, but when he retired in 1970, after years concentrating on market access negotiations, the industry had retrieved from the government effective control over all facets of its activity. In his position as general manager of the Dairy Board, he gave dairy farmers the reassurance that production problems on the farm were not submerged by the urgency of market negotiations.
During the 10 years following his retirement, Ward exerted considerable influence through his chairmanship of the National Research Advisory Council and his memberships of the Monetary and Economic Council, the Remuneration Authority and the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research. He was a director of Swift, Ivon Watkins-Dow, W. M. Angus, and the Contractors, Bonding and Discount Corporation. However, he himself valued most highly his contribution to Massey University during its years of expansion. He was a member of the university council from 1967, pro-chancellor (1970–75) and chancellor (1976–81). His book A command of cooperatives was published in 1975.
In 1961 he was appointed an OBE for services to the dairy industry and in 1965 he became a life member of the New Zealand Society of Animal Production. He received a Distinguished Service Award from the New Zealand Society of Dairy Technology in 1969, the Sir Ernest Marsden Medal for Service to Science in 1975, and in 1977 the Queen’s Silver Jubilee Medal. He was knighted in 1979 but was more thrilled by the honorary DSc conferred on him by Massey University in 1991 – a reflection of his lifelong commitment to learning. He died at Waikanae on 1 November 1993, survived by his wife, three daughters and a son.
Overall, Ward’s remarkable contribution to the New Zealand dairy industry gave it such an increase in efficiency over international competitors that it was able to survive and expand in the difficult and often hostile world market.