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Obituary: Leading Norfolk farmer and world-renowned horse breeder dies aged 88

PUBLISHED: 09:27 10 January 2019 | UPDATED: 11:10 10 January 2019

Tom Crane, an award-winning Norfolk farming leader and world-renowned Haflinger horse breeder, has died at the age of 88. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Tom Crane, an award-winning Norfolk farming leader and world-renowned Haflinger horse breeder, has died at the age of 88. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Archant Norfolk 2013

An award-winning champion Norfolk farmers' leader and a respected horse breeder around the world, Tom Crane, has died at his Oxnead home aged 88.

He built up a formidable farming operation and founded one of the country’s top Haflinger studs.

Elected chairman of Norfolk National Farmers’ Union (NFU) in 1982, he was made OBE in the 1988 new year’s honours for his contribution to the agricultural industry.

At one stage, he ran 18 different enterprises including chickens, rearing pigs and arable enterprises including sugar beet, potatoes, peas and beans on farms at Booton, Oxnead, Marsham and Beccles.

A farmer’s son, Thomas George Crane went to Bracondale School, Norwich, and left aged 14 in March 1945.

As he recalled when elected NFU chairman, some 30 years earlier he was given the chance to take over the family’s Marsham farm by his father. So, he gave his oldest son, David, the same opportunity.

There was little surprise in the agricultural community when Crane & Sons won Norfolk’s supreme farming award in 1986. The next year, defending his title, he was reserve champion in the Norfolk County Farm Business competition. Sadly, David was killed in a road accident just a few years later leaving a young family.

But there were set-backs – when the county’s second outbreak of rhizomania or sugar beet madness was detected at Marsham in 1989 and of course, surviving the roller-coasters of the pig cycle. In mid-1998, Mr Crane said losses of almost £12 per head on the farm’s 30,000 finished pigs were the “worst in his 40 years of farming.”

In 1979, when the first Norfolk farm competition was held by Aylsham Agricultural Show Association, Crane & Sons took the under-600 acre class for Hall Farm, Oxnead. In the following years, Crane & Sons (later to be styled B & C Farming) won two supreme and six reserve championships.

A former Meat and Livestock Commissioner, Mr Crane also held senior NFU roles including vice-chairman of the pigs’ committee in 1983. In that year, five Norfolk farmers held national NFU roles including brother-in-law Jim Papworth, vice-chairman of peas and processed vegetables.

A keen supporter of farm co-operatives, he was a director of Bungay-based Anglian Produce, then the country’s fastest-growing potato marketing group, and was a director of the Elmswell, Suffolk, bacon factory.

He had learned to fly in a Tiger Moth at Little Snoring in 1959, then continued for another 30 years, later flying a Cessna 172. His 80th birthday included a flight in a Tiger Moth over his farms.

He played a key role in the transformation of a hardy Austrian horse breed. When his wife Susan, asked him to look at a Haflinger at the 1976 Royal Show, he thought she meant a little Austrian four-wheel drive vehicle. But impressed by the breed, later described as the Golden Horse with the Golden Heart, a few months later they bought two brood mares. Their progeny became the foundation of the Oxnead stud.

And their purchase of a young stallion, Alpine, in 1987 helped to produce a modern style of family horse. But he also drove a pair of Haflingers for a quarter of a century until 2005.

He served on the breed’s world judging panel for 20 years until he resigned after his 80th birthday. And he was proud too that Oxnead-bred stock, as well as Alpine, had produced champions on almost every continent.

A former chairman of the Haflinger Society of Great Britain for 14 years, and later its president, he was elected world vice-president.

In 2013, they reduced the Oxnead stud. “For the last 40 years our Haffies have brought us much pleasure and many friends,” he said.

He is survived by a younger brother John. He leaves a widow, Susan, two daughters Rosie and Carolyn, son Roger, 10 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

Funeral arrangements to be announced.

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