School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences

Professor Michael Savage (centre) receiving Honorary Membership of the South African Society of Crop Production (SASCP) from SASCP President, Dr Johann Strauss (left), and SASCP Registrar, Ms Lisa Smorenburg.

Emeritus Professor Honoured for Exceptional Contributions to Crop Production

Michael Savage, Emeritus Professor of Agrometeorology at UKZN was awarded Honorary Membership of the South African Society of Crop Production (SASCP) at the Society’s 50th annual meeting which took place during the Combined Congress of the Soil Science Society of South Africa, Southern African Society for Horticultural Sciences, and the SASCP in Pretoria.

The award was given in recognition of exceptional services to and promotion of the objectives of the Society on account of Savage’s excellent achievements as a scientist, and his contributions to the South African agricultural industry. In the past four decades, only 49 honorary members have been nominated, and Savage joins a distinguished list that includes a former State President, ministers of Agriculture, well-known agricultural leaders, senior departmental officials, and a former Professor of Crop Science at UKZN (then the University of Natal (UN)) Karl Nathanson.

Savage, who retired in 2018 after more than four decades at UKZN has received several other honours from the SASCP during the course of his career, including a gold medal in 1988 for scientific achievements in crop production (the SASCP’s highest honour for significant scientific contributions to crop production) and the President’s Award in 2002 for the best conference poster. He was also recognised for the best conference presentation in 2013, and received two awards for the best journal papers in the South African Journal of Plant and Soil in 2014 and 2016.

‘I am particularly humbled by the award and the peer recognition for my contributions to science through research in agrometeorology,’ said Savage. ‘I always tried hard to encourage my postgraduate students to think out of the box and would like to dedicate the award to them.’

Between 1981 and 2022, Savage successfully supervised six honours students, 35 master’s students (eight of whom graduated cum laude) and 21 PhD students.

Savage himself studied at the University, completing his undergraduate studies in physics and mathematics before briefly teaching Mathematics at a local school. He returned to the University full-time in 1977 and converted his master’s studies to a PhD which he submitted in 1982. Not content to have missed out on graduating with a master’s degree and despite having received the first illustrious Doctor of Science in Agriculture degree from the merged UKZN in 2010, he went back to complete a master’s degree cum laude in 2014.

At UN and later UKZN, Savage was a full professor for 31 years and served variously as Assistant Dean of the Faculty of Agriculture, Head of Department, the Inaugural Head of the School of Applied Environmental Sciences, the Vice-Chair of the UN Research Committee, and Acting Deputy Vice-Chancellor.

His accolade includes the inaugural medal award and honorary membership from the South African Society for Atmospheric Sciences in 2015, the society’s highest award in recognition of research, education, and technical achievements. He also received the Four Outstanding Young South Africans award in 1989 for outstanding and meaningful contributions to the people of South Africa, a Senior Fulbright Scholarship in 1992, UKZN’s Distinguished Teacher Awards’ for 2014, and a Committee of Higher Education/The Higher Education Learning and Teaching Association of Southern Africa national award in 2015 for excellence in teaching and for the web-based Agrometeorological Instrumentation Mast (AIM) system.

As a researcher, Savage has focused his life’s work on the themes of soil-plant-atmosphere energy and water relations; agricultural meteorology; environmental physics; hydrometeorology; micrometeorology; and modelling energy and water movement in the soil-plant-atmosphere continuum. A University Fellowship, the Institution’s highest research award, was conferred on him in 1996 in recognition of his research efforts.

Words: Christine Cuénod

Photograph: Supplied