Stanford agricultural economist Timothy Josling dies at age 78

Timothy Josling, a professor emeritus at the former Food Research Institute known for his encyclopedic knowledge of international agricultural policy, died on Nov. 27.

Timothy Josling, a Stanford professor emeritus of agricultural economics, died at his home in Davis, California, on Nov. 27 after a two-year battle with cancer. He was 78.

Josling, professor emeritus at the former Food Research Institute, was a prolific scholar in agricultural economics. He was known for his humor, patience and devotion to his work and family, according to his relatives and colleagues.

“My dad was one of those people who had an answer to every question,” said his daughter, Catherine Josling. “I loved asking him questions because I knew whether he knew the answer or not, he would confidently answer the question. He also had a wonderful sense of humor – you could always count on him for a witty retort.”

Tim Josling portrait

Timothy Josling (Image credit: Courtesy FSI)

A walking encyclopedia

Originally from London, England, Josling joined Stanford in 1978 to teach at the former Food Research Institute, which was founded in 1921 by Herbert Hoover to investigate the issues of food production, distribution and consumption.

Josling’s research interests centered on agricultural policies and international trade regulations – and he was admired by his colleagues for his wide breadth of knowledge on these topics.

“Tim Josling was a walking encyclopedia of international agricultural institutions, and he made lasting contributions in the fields of international trade and policy analysis,” said Walter P. Falcon, who directed the Food Research Institute from 1972 to 1991 and recruited Josling to join the faculty. “He was also uncommonly broad. We used to jokingly – but seriously – say that if one wanted 10 pages overnight of really good analysis on any economics topic, best to call Tim.”

Among his many contributions to the field of agricultural economics, Josling is most known for developing the “producer subsidy equivalent approach,” a measure that helps countries understand how much of a farmer’s earnings was created by agricultural policy. Josling initially developed the formula, also known as the “PSE,” for the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, and it has since been adopted by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the United States Department of Agriculture and the World Trade Organization (WTO).

“The Josling PSE is used to this day,” said his colleague Scott Pearson, who served on the Stanford faculty as a professor of agricultural economics from 1968 until his retirement in 2002 and as director of the Food Research Institute from 1991 to 1996. “The PSE helps governments understand the costs of agricultural protection and support.”

Dedicated scholar

From 1993 to 1996, Josling served as the director for the Center for European Studies at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies (FSI). When the Food Research Institute closed in 1996, he went on to co-convene the European Forum, now The Europe Center, until he retired in 2003.

Throughout retirement, Josling remained active on campus as a senior fellow, by courtesy, at FSI. Until 2016, he taught a course on the economics of the WTO for the Program in International Relations and would regularly meet with his students at the Europe Center’s offices, said program administrator Karen Haley.

Josling’s recent publications include the three-volume Handbook on International Food and Agricultural Policies, which was published in 2018. In 2015, he co-authored Transatlantic Food and Agricultural Trade Policy: 50 Years of Conflict and Convergence with his long-time collaborator, Stefan Tangermann of the University of Göttingen in Germany.

“One could discuss the most crazy ideas with him and develop them jointly into workable hypotheses and proposals,” said Tangermann, who first met Josling in 1973. Over the next 40 years, the pair developed a close professional partnership and wrote more than 50 publications together, including two major books.

“From the 1980s on, Josling and Tangermann were considered the profession’s leaders in explaining European agricultural policy and in discussing its implications for policymakers,” said Pearson.

Josling was a member of the International Policy Council on Food and Agricultural Trade and former chair of the executive committee of the International Agricultural Trade Research Consortium. He also held a visiting professorship at the University of Kent, in the United Kingdom, and was a past president of the UK Agricultural Economics Association. In 2004, he was made a Fellow of the American Agricultural Economics Association.

Despite his accomplishments, Josling was “very self-effacing,” said his colleague and friend Christophe Crombez, a senior research scholar at the Europe Center. “Tim was not someone who sought the spotlight.”

Quintessential English professor; avid sports fan

Prior to joining Stanford, Josling taught at the London School of Economics and the University of Reading in England.

Josling received a BSc in agriculture from the University of London (Wye College), an MSc in agricultural economics from the University of Guelph, Canada, and a PhD in agricultural economics from Michigan State University.

His family described him as the “quintessential English professor,” and according to Falcon, “He never lost all of his English ways. If he were to walk in the door you would think he belonged in a Shakespeare play – he looked the part of an English actor.”

Josling also loved sports, including cricket and thanks to Pearson, baseball as well.

Pearson remembers taking Josling to his first game at Stanford’s Sunken Diamond in the late 1970s: “At his first game, Tim offered a suggestion. He noted that it would be much more difficult for the batter to hit the baseball if only the pitcher – no, Tim, he was not called the hurler – would bounce the ball in front of home plate. I had to tell him that, alas, this would not work in American baseball.”

For years, Josling and his wife, Anthea, also had season tickets for Stanford football as well as for women’s and men’s basketball.

Josling was devoted to his family and garden. In 2003, he and Anthea moved to the hills in Los Gatos. There, he grew a variety of vegetables and tended to goats and chickens, as well as caring for several cats and dogs. His also enjoyed sailing, photography and travel. In early 2018, the Joslings moved to Davis to be closer to his daughter and grandchildren.

“What I liked most about Tim was his good nature,” Falcon said. “Tim could find the bright side of things, when the rest of us had trouble.”

Josling is survived by his wife, Anthea; his children, Catherine, BS ’03, and John Mark, BS ’99, and their spouses, Amiel Sagpao and Jessica Smith, as well as two grandchildren, Claire Sagpao and Andrew Sagpao. Plans for a celebration of life in the new year are pending. In lieu of flowers, the family request donations in Josling’s name to the Cancer Research Institute.

Media Contacts

Melissa De Witte, Stanford News Service: (650) 725-9281, mdewitte@stanford.edu