Ronald Alan Candy was born in Wanganui on 25 August 1903, the second child of Hubert Edward Candy, a farmer of Manaia, Taranaki, and his wife, Isabella Braid Christie. He was educated at Manaia School and New Plymouth Boys’ High School. In 1920 he took a job on William Nicholson’s dairy farm at Springdale in Waikato. The following year he moved to a farm his father had bought at Ngarua. Marriage to Sarah Nicholson, daughter of his former employer, took place at Te Aroha on 27 May 1925. The couple were to have two sons and two daughters.
In 1925 Alan took over management of the farm. With energy and determination he worked to turn the rough, poorly drained peat into productive farmland, experimenting with fertilisers and testing his cows for butterfat production. He was an early believer in farming practices which are now commonplace: heavy top-dressing, adequate sub-division, good drainage and rotational grazing. His lifelong association with herd improvement began in 1926 when he started a Ngarua herd-testing group. In 1933 he became chairman of the Auckland Herd Improvement Association, a post which he was to hold for 33 years.
Over the next 35 years he was prominent in many farming organisations. He was director (1935–68) and deputy chairman (1952–57) of the New Zealand Co-operative Dairy Company, chairman (1957–61) of the New Zealand Dairy Products Marketing Commission, deputy chairman (1961–65) of the New Zealand Dairy Production and Marketing Board, and he was a member (1937–46) and chairman (1944–46) of the Massey College Council (later Board of Governors). He had an unusual ability to work with scientists, to recognise the relevance of their work, and to translate technical information into practical advice to farmers. In chairing meetings of mixed groups of scientists, farmers, politicians and industrialists, he was skilled at leading the discussions to a productive conclusion. One of the first to recognise the importance of diversifying both products and markets, he saw clearly the problems that would arise when Britain joined the European Economic Community. He travelled extensively overseas, especially as chairman of the Dairy Products Marketing Commission, laying the foundations for today’s dairy marketing strategy.
Alan Candy’s work for the dairy industry was recognised by his being made an OBE in 1946 and a CBE in 1969. The honorary DSc conferred on him by Massey University in 1968 was the first awarded to a non-academic.
Somersby, his Ngarua farm, became a showplace noted for its high level of production. He had a prodigious memory, knowing the name, number and previous test results of each of his 120 cows. His diary was written up every day of his life from 1927. A pioneer in dairy beef production, he persisted in the face of scepticism from other farmers and was instrumental in establishing dairy beef as an important part of dairy industry production. Young men who worked for him were encouraged to save and were offered generous bonuses to assist them in taking up their own farms. Many later became leaders in the dairy industry.
Alan Candy was devoted to his family, who accepted his absences as part of the normal pattern of life. He contributed to the social life of the Ngarua district, serving on the hall and tennis club committees, and attending dances and school concerts. He also enjoyed golf, swimming, skiing, and the cinema. During the Second World War he was an inaugural member of the Ngarua unit of the Home Guard. He registered for military service but was told that he would contribute more to the war effort by continuing his work for the dairy industry.
In 1968 he retired from all his public offices, believing that older men should make way for younger. In retirement his main interests were the home farm and his properties at Okoroire and Broadlands. However, after a time he found retirement difficult and became very depressed. He died in Waikato Hospital on 27 October 1974 from a gunshot wound to the head sustained while out rabbit shooting on his Ngarua farm. He was survived by his wife and four children.
Alan Candy was one of the leading figures in the dairy industry during a period of great progress and change and of major problems in the marketing of dairy products. He had an unusually analytical and perceptive mind and great vigour, both physical and intellectual. Ambitious, at times impatient, he did not suffer fools gladly and from those who worked for him expected a day’s work for a day’s pay. An able speaker and a natural leader, he could present his ideas logically and forcefully, usually achieving the result he sought. Generous in hospitality and friendship, he earned the respect of employees, colleagues and his fellow farmers.