Obituary: Inspirational farmer, agricultural innovator and founder of the G’s Group, dies aged 92
PUBLISHED: 12:22 31 October 2018 | UPDATED: 12:55 31 October 2018
Guy Shropshire, the inspirational Fenland farmer, agricultural innovator and founder of the G’s Group, one of Europe’s leading salad and vegetable suppliers, has died just short of his 93rd birthday.
Mr Shropshire was born on November 5, 1925, at Little Hales Manor near Newport, Shropshire, to Betsy née Smith and John Charles Shropshire, who ran a farming and butchery business.
The youngest of four sons, he demonstrated his characteristic independence and entrepreneurial spirit while still at school, rearing poultry and selling eggs.
At 18, he was managing a 70-acre farm growing root vegetables and salads, and taking evening classes in agricultural science at the local technical college, Harper Adams. In 1949 he married Joan Ollivant and they took on a somewhat-neglected rented farm in Bedfordshire with heavy, challenging land.
Mr Shropshire made the farm pay by working long hours and exploiting the latest technical advances.
Coveting the lighter, fertile Fen soils in East Anglia, perfect for growing salads and vegetables, in 1952 Guy was keen to purchase the 330-acre Fordey Farm near Ely.
His bank refused a loan, but impressed by the shrewd vision of the ambitious young farmer, the vendor lent him the necessary funds. Within three years, Mr Shropshire had redeemed the debt.
Over the decades he added other farms to the estate, including Hainey Farm, ideally suited to celery, which was to become a major crop and prompted the creation of G’s (short for Guy’s).
Foreseeing the growing domination of the supermarkets, by 1957 Mr Shropshire was no longer selling earth-covered celery in traditional bushel boxes to wholesalers, but had risked investing in a purpose-built packhouse. It paid off – in 1961 Marks & Spencer commissioned him to directly supply his freshly washed celery in their own packaging.
Tragically, the following year, his wife Joan died suddenly leaving a grieving Mr Shropshire with four young children, Elizabeth, John, Peter and Annabel, aged only two. Just before Christmas 1964 he married Christine Mary Bourne and they had two daughters, Sarah and Georgina.
Passionate about research and development, Mr Shropshire continually introduced innovations in his relentless pursuit of quality.
These included a straw planter he patented to protect the light soils and crops from the destructive Fen winds; laser-levelling fields; pioneering drying and refrigerating English onions to ensure year-round supply.
He introduced new varieties such as iceberg, little gem and Chinese leaf; and invented mobile packing rigs to cut, clean and pack celery and lettuce in the field, ensuring freshness and eliminating damage and waste.
Demand for G’s products grew, and in 1968 Mr Shropshire was forced to bid a record £470/acre for Dimmocks Cote farm, making the national news; land prices rocketed shortly afterwards.
By 1984, with supermarkets demanding fresh perishable products 365 days a year, he had expanded into Spain to produce winter crops. G’s Spanish business is now as large as the UK one and supplies retailers throughout Europe.
Through sheer determination, passion and hard work, and inspiring loyalty in the people working for him, Mr Shropshire laid the foundations of how the G’s Group operates today, producing more than three million units of fresh produce per day.
Along the way, G’s received a host of awards for innovation, production, environment and marketing, culminating when Mr Shropshire, aged 76, received The Grower’s Lifetime Achievement award. The chair of judges commented: ‘Guy Shropshire has always been willing to share his knowledge with others and has actively operated an open-door approach which is still encouraged at G’s today.’
Always a generous supporter of the local community and various charities, in his later years he also enjoyed breeding racehorses, playing snooker and watching Norwich City.
His greatest satisfaction and pride, however, came from seeing that the next generations of his family shared his passion for the farming business and are committed to carrying on his legacy.
Guy Shropshire is survived by his second wife Christine, his six children, 16 grandchildren and 10 great grandchildren.
A memorial service will be held in Ely Cathedral on Friday December 14 at 1.30pm.