Smith, Louis Patrick Frederick (1923–2012), agricultural economist and academic, was born on 21 December 1923 in Kevit Castle in Crossdoney, Co. Cavan, the youngest of eight children of Dr Frederick Paul Smith, a farmer and ophthalmologist of Kevit Castle, and his wife Isabella (née Smith). He was born into a thriving branch of an ancient Cavan family, known originally as O'Gowan. His grandfather Philip Smith bought the Kevit Castle estate in the 1850s and later became Cavan's first catholic JP. Of his uncles, Philip H. Law Smith was county court judge for Limerick; Louis Smith, the crown solicitor for Cavan; and Alfred J. Smith an internationally respected UCD professor of midwifery and gynaecology. As well as having a successful ophthalmological practice, his father was elected to the first Cavan County Council and helped establish the local cooperative movement.
Louis was educated in Clongowes Wood College, Co. Kildare, before studying economics and history in UCD, graduating with a first class honours BA (1947). Continuing in UCD, he won the Coyne Memorial Scholarship while receiving a first class honours MA in economics (1948), writing a thesis comparing agriculture in Northern Ireland and the Republic. He also studied law at King's Inns, passing his bar exam finals, but preferred a career in economics and spent a year at Manchester University researching British agriculture and getting lecturing experience.
In January 1949 he sat the civil service examination for the position of third secretary of the Department of External Affairs. Despite otherwise coming first by a distance, he failed the oral Irish test, which he retook unsuccessfully in August and then September. The examiners were unmoved by his protests that the test was unfair so on 28 November the cabinet intervened by temporarily appointing him economic assistant in the trade section of the Department of External Affairs. This was at the behest of the external affairs minister, Seán MacBride (qv), who wanted Smith to explore the potential for trade liberalisation.
In 1951 he joined the Irish Agricultural Organisation Society (IAOS) for which he organised agricultural cooperatives in the northern parts of the state. Farmers were initially suspicious of the 'man from Dublin', but were won over by his lucidity and soft-spoken decency. That year he married Sheila Brady of Herbert Park, Dublin. They lived in Dartry, Dublin, later settling in Donnybrook, Dublin, and had three sons and three daughters. Tall and with refined features rendered distinguished by his prematurely grey hair (a family trait), Smith relaxed by playing tennis at the Fitzwilliam Lawn Tennis Club. He also enjoyed cycling, boating, rambling and do-it-yourself work, including furniture making, and was fluent in French.
Formatively impressed by what he saw on a research trip to Scandinavia, he lauded the progressive cooperative farming that prevailed there as a model for an Irish agricultural sector resistant to modern scientific and business methods. He concluded that Ireland's weak social structures had bred a suffocating state paternalism towards agriculture and that strong vocational institutions were needed to counteract this. Drawing upon his training as an economist and personal experience of cooperatives, he later wrote The evolution of agricultural co-operation (1961), which examined the application of the cooperative principle in various countries with a characteristic emphasis on the practical over the theoretical.
In 1954 he left the IAOS to join Macra na Feirme, a vocational association that trained young farmers. He directed its activities in economics and marketing, and became involved in efforts underway towards creating a farmers union spanning all commodity interests. Appointed economics adviser to the National Farmers Association (NFA) formed in January 1955, he helped establish the system of commodity committees that served as the basis of the NFA's organisation. (His brother Alfred Myles Smith served as the NFA's legal adviser and later as president of its Cavan executive and vice president of its Ulster executive.) At this time Louis worked a ninety-hour week making the case for the NFA to farmers.
His main function was to conduct research, an important role given that agricultural policy had previously been developed on a non-factual basis in response to short-term political exigencies. Part of a vanguard of experts who placed the Irish economic debate on a firm statistical footing, he established the NFA's credibility by churning out facts and informed arguments, clashing regularly with politicians and civil servants discomfited by the advent of a well-organised farmers lobby. Through his public lectures and newspaper pieces, he exerted an important influence over young farmers, most notably by persuading them of the advantages of cooperative livestock marts over unsanitary and inefficient cattle fairs.
From 1954 he combined his work in farm organisations with lecturing in agricultural economics and international trade in the UCD economics department. He also introduced courses on European institutions and was awarded a Ph.D. by UCD in 1955. His dual roles complemented each other, bringing home to him the importance of linking agricultural education with research. He criticised the government for failing to do so and also for starving agricultural education and research of resources and for maintaining political control over the farming advisory services. He identified a lack of training and basic schooling as the besetting weakness of Irish farming.
His research for the NFA revealed that Irish agriculture was unproductive and undercapitalised, but that much of this was attributable to government policies which lumbered farmers with high input and transport costs, arbitrary rates, mistaken breeding programs, volatile prices, weak cooperative marketing and export restrictions. Above all he showed how the strategy of seeking trade preferences for Irish farm produce in Britain had run aground once Britain began protecting its farmers through subsidies rather than tariffs. With their traditional British outlet emerging as the industrial world's most open food market, Irish farmers received the lowest prices in western Europe and became increasingly reliant on exporting unfinished cattle, a form of production that provided the least employment.
Pointing to the European common market as a secure, well-paying alternative, he highlighted the untenable nature of Ireland's position as a small, politically isolated food-exporting country, particularly as generously protected continental farmers produced ever-larger surpluses, which were then dumped on the British market. His arguments convinced previously sceptical farmers that there was a political solution to their economic difficulties, though his assertion that Ireland could join the EEC even if the UK did not was unrealistic. He was a founding member of the Irish Council of the European Movement, established in 1954, serving as its chairman (1962–5).
Having become a full-time UCD lecturer, he resigned his position in the NFA in January 1963, continuing for a time on the NFA's National Council. He received a doctorate in economic science from UCD in 1963 for his published work and became an associate professor of political economy (international trade) in 1969. Enthusiastic and engaging as a teacher, if at times impenetrable and absent-minded, he co-wrote an economics textbook, Elements of economics (1969), and expressed public sympathy for the late 1960s student protests against the UCD administration. A long-serving president of the Irish Council for Overseas Students, he was a council member of the Irish Federation of University Teachers and active in the Academic Staff Association as a committee member and secretary.
Continuing to comment regularly in the print media on farming, the EEC and economics, he had a well-regarded weekly farming column in the Irish Independent (1965–69) under the penname 'Agricola'. In 1971 he contributed to a booklet outlining the farming benefits to be derived from Ireland's membership of the EEC and later disputed claims made by anti-EEC campaigners concerning high food prices within EEC member states. After Ireland joined the EEC in 1973, he opposed efforts to subject the newly enriched farming sector to meaningful taxation. He also argued influentially that Ireland's currency link with a depreciating sterling reduced the benefits of EEC membership by causing high inflation.
He was a director in a firm of management consultants and of the South Dublin Provident Society, and was retained as an economics consultant by various semi-state agencies, the European Commission and AIB. His 1971 AIB appointment reflected his successful efforts to encourage the banks to lend more to farmers. During the 1960s and 1970s, he published a labour survey of the Cooley peninsula as well as studies of the Irish food processing and retailing sectors, the finance costs associated with Irish farming and the compliance costs associated with the Irish tax system. He condemned the high tax policies of the 1970s and 1980s for discouraging savings, employment and investment, and devised tax reform proposals on behalf of the Irish Federation for the Self-Employed. A longstanding member of the Christian Family Movement, he drew attention to the rapid 1970s increase in Irish working mothers and annoyed feminists by suggesting this would put families under strain and encourage lesbianism.
He co-wrote two histories, Milk to market (1989) and Farm organisations in Ireland: a century of progress (1996): the former capably described the role of the Leinster Milk Producers Association in supplying Dublin; the latter contains invaluable anecdotal material relating to the founding and early years of the NFA, though as a history it is workmanlike, partial and sketchy in places. After retiring from UCD in 1988, he kept active by playing tennis into his mid-eighties before switching to snooker and swimming. Following a long illness, he died in the Bloomfield Care Centre, Rathfarnham, Dublin, on 25 November 2012. He was buried in Mount Venus Cemetery, Rathfarnham, and left a will disposing of €1.26 million.