Benjamin C. French, professor emeritus and a former chair of the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics, died Aug. 23 at his Davis home. He was 90.
The Agricultural and Applied Economics Association (formerly the American Agricultural Economics Association) accorded him its highest honor, naming him a fellow in 1981, in recognition of his distinguished contributions in research, teaching and administration.
“His research is noted for its depth and innovativeness,” the association declared in a write-up in the American Journal of Agricultural Economics, upon his selection as a fellow. The journal cited a landmark monograph on economic efficiency in plant operations, published in UC’s Hilgardia; French and two others wrote the paper, developed from French’s Ph.D. thesis.
That thesis, by the way, earned him an award from the American Farm Economics Association — among numerous honors he had received.
“His research papers reflect a continued interest in efficiency in agricultural marketing in areas such as assembly cost functions, subsector model analysis, and pricing efficiency with long-term contracts,” the American Journal of Agricultural Economics stated.
“Another focus of his research is on applied econometric studies, where his supply response specification for perennial crops has been recognized as particularly innovative.”
“In spite of teaching and administrative duties, his research contributions continue to explore new paths, such as the quantitative analysis of marketing control programs.”
He was president of the Western Agricultural Economics Association in 1970-71 and a member of the Journal of Farm Economics editorial council from 1962 to 1965. He had served as a consultant to Congress, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Agency for International Development, and various agricultural firms.
He was born in Hanford (Kings County), a descendant of early California pioneers. His paternal grandfather was part owner, with J.B. Anderson, of the Davisville Cash Store, the predecessor to Davis Lumber and Hardware; French’s father attended Davis schools during the early years of the 20th century.
Ben French enrolled at UC Berkeley in 1942, entered the Army Reserve program and was called to active duty in March 1943, fighting as a paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne Division France and Germany. Back at Berkeley, starting in 1946, he earned his Bachelor of Science, Master of Science and Ph.D. in agricultural economics. He taught at Michigan State University before coming to UC Davis.
He was “a dedicated teacher at both the undergraduate and graduate levels,” his professional society noted when naming him a fellow. “One has but to borrow his lecture notes to see the thoughtful and rigorous development of the subject matter.
“Ph.D. thesis students, with Ben on the committee, have learned to expect no-holds-barred review comments, good-natured encouragement and firm guidance.”
French and his wife, the former Mary Loscutoff, whom he met at UC Berkeley, had been married for nearly 66 years. They enjoyed world travel and camping trips and, most of all, fishing.
Besides his wife, he is survived by three children, Susan French Weeks, Ben French and Stan French; and two granddaughters and a great-granddaughter.
At French’s request, there will not be a memorial service. Remembrances may be posted online, through Wiscombe Funeral Home.