Dr Gunnar Ëlafsson (1934–1985) In memoriam

Bj÷rn Sigurbj÷rnssonRannsˇknastofnun landb˙na­arins, B˙na­arfÚlag ═slands, BŠndaskˇlinn ß Hvanneyri, Rannsˇknast÷­ SkˇgrŠktar rÝkisins, Tilraunast÷­ hßskˇlans Ý meinafrŠ­i og Vei­imßlastofnun 1993ReykjavÝk

This Symposium is being convened to honour the memory of Dr Gunnar Ëlafsson, himself an eminent research scientist in the field of animal nutrition. Dr Ëlafsson was also Director of the Agricultural Research Institute (RALA) and Head of its Division of Animal Nutrition.

For most of us here, Gunnar was not only a respected scientist and a distinguished colleague, he was a person we were privileged to call “our friend”.

It gives me a special sense of satisfaction to have been given the opportunity to deliver the eulogy here today.

Gunnar was one of my longest and closest professional associates and also one of my closest friends.

It was five years ago, on 21st February, in the middle of a normal busy day, that Gunnar collapsed and died. He was only 50 years old, in the middle of an outstanding career as a scientist and a scientific administrator. He was in the middle of a happy family life, he was busy in a number of activities lead-ing to improvement of agriculture and animal husbandry in Iceland and in the Nordic countries.

Dr Gunnar Ëlafsson was born in Reykja-vÝk in 1934. He graduated from the Voss farmer’s school in Norway in 1955 and completed his academic studies at the Norway Agricultural University at ┼s in 1960, later earning his doctors degree in the physiology of nutrition at ┼s in 1972. His Ph.D. thesis dealt with the nutritive value of grazing plants in Iceland. Gunnar also did post-graduate research at the Grassland Research Institute in Reading, UK, in 1963–1964.

He had a broad background in agricultural science, having first specialized in agronomy and later shifting into animal nutrition. This was to characterize the mature approach he consistently took when designing and carrying out research on animal nutrition and grazing where it is so essential to view all the inter-connecting aspects of livestock production from the soil nutrients, the hay and pasture plants, to the intake, digestion and utilization of the feed and fodder by the animal and the resulting livestock product.

Dr Gunnar started his career as a research assistant in the Department of Agriculture of the University of Iceland Research Institute, the predecessor of the Agricultural Research Institute. As such, he worked with me for a few years on plant research and plant breeding, including cereals and grassland crops. I look back to those years with Gunnar as one of the most interesting and enjoyable periods in my professional life.

It was my good fortune to find him at RALA when I returned to the Institute after many years and to be able to have him at my side as the Deputy Director in the exciting period of building up and equipping this Institute and organizing and co-ordinating agricultural research in Iceland. Gunnar had a fine sense for the real research needs in Icelandic agriculture. He saw the need to concentrate the limited resources available and to focus them on solving important problems. When I left the Institute again, Gunnar became its able and respected Director. During this period, he gave a lot of thought to how the research and extension service for agriculture could be made more effective. He had developed a scheme to reorganize and consolidate these activities taking into account the resources available and the foreseen need in a changing agriculture. Unfortunately this period was to be far too short. Gunnar died before he could elaborate these plans further and see them put into practice.

In addition to his research activities and the business of running a major research in-stitute, Dr Gunnar had been given responsibility for a variety of tasks. He was on the Board of the Icelandic Science Foundation as well as of the Nordic Contact Group for Agricultural Research. He was a member of the National Icelandic FAO Committee, taking major responsibility for the highly successful FAO Regional Conference for Europe, held in ReykjavÝk in 1984.

Agriculture in Iceland is based on its grasslands and their utilization by livestock.

The efficiency of livestock production is primarily based on the quantity and quality of the fodder derived from pastures and rangelands or winter-fed as hay.
Dr Gunnar was a pioneer in introducing methods for determining the digestibility and nutritive value of the fodder plants in Iceland. This essential and now standard service to Icelandic farmers and extension workers is based on his pioneering work. His studies on the nutritive value of Icelandic hay and pasture plants formed the basis of the extensive and successful mapping and characterization of the Icelandic highland and lowland rangelands. Gunnar and his team in the Division of Animal Nutrition were the essential partners in the estimation of grazing capacity of the Icelandic highland ranges which is the basis for their proper management.

Gunnar was the author and co-author of a number of scientific articles and reports on the subject of this Symposium.

I am sure that many of the papers presented at the Symposium will have references to the scientific results obtained by Dr Gunnar Ëlafsson.

I find it eminently fitting to hold a symposium on nutritional aspects of sheep grazing and feeding under Northern conditions in memory of the man who paved the way for much of this work in Iceland. Before we start our work today, let us stand up and remember our good friend and colleague, Gunnar Ëlafsson, with a minute of silence.

Thank you.