Pioneering farmer and crop science leader Frank Oldfield dies aged 83

Frank Oldfield MBE, a pioneering Norfolk farm director and crop research leader, has died at the age

Frank Oldfield MBE, a pioneering Norfolk farm director and crop research leader, has died at the age of 83. He is pictured after receiving an honorary doctor of civil law degree from the UEA in 2007. Picture: Archant

A dedicated farming pioneer who inspired scientific advances and extended Norfolk’s famed legacy of agricultural innovation has died at the age of 83.

Frank Oldfield was managing director of the Marquess Townshend’s Raynham Estate for 47 years, and was made an MBE in 2013 for his services to the farming industry and the “advancement of farming practice through research”.

The estate, near Fakenham, was at the heart of the agricultural revolution of the 18th century after the 2nd Viscount “Turnip” Townshend promoted adoption of the Norfolk four-course rotation.

And after taking on the management of its farming operations in 1964, Mr Oldfield continued that tradition by pioneering the introduction of new crops including oilseed rape, which led to leading roles with industry bodies United Oilseeds and the Home-Grown Cereals Authority. He also persuaded the late Lord Townshend to change his beloved Ayrshire cattle for Friesians and introduced vining peas, a poultry unit and liquid fertilisers.

At the same time he became a passionate advocate for crop science and research across the country, becoming chairman of trustees for the John Innes Foundation in 1998 and serving on the committees of Rothamsted Research in Hertfordshire and the Morley Research Centre near Wymondham.

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His son Stephen Oldfield, a former agri-business leader at accountancy firm PwC, said: “He wasn’t content with accepting past practices, he was a science-led farmer. He would say the real skill of farming is all to do with the science of growing, and you shouldn’t delegate your responsibility for agronomy to your agronomist. You should work with them, and challenge them, and always try to be alongside them in terms of scientific advancement because that is the key ingredient in being a good farmer.

“The bond of trust was very strong with Lord Townshend. Change was part of the Raynham Estate’s culture and heritage, and Lord Townshend entrusted dad with innovation and change, and scientific advancement for his estate.

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“He was always an early adopter. Through the 60s and 70s when agriculture was going through a crossroads in fortunes, he made sure that Norfolk, and Norfolk arable farming, remained at the forefront of the national scene.

“More latterly as the speed of scientific uptake and the influence of plant science became ever more important, he was again at the forefront of ensuring that Norfolk and its scientific institutions were linked with practical farming, to drive more effective, more applied, more informed science.”

Mr Oldfield also spent a lot of time observing agriculture in other countries during his travels in Canada, America, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and Europe.

Lord Raynham, chief executive of the Raynham Estate, said: “Frank Oldfield gave 47 years of his life working for the Raynham Estate. He was a remarkably dedicated man to his work and to my grandfather, 7th Marquess Townshend. “Frank’s commitment to the advancement of agriculture through science and agronomy was the perfect fit with Raynham, given our history of innovation in the farming industry, past and present.

“Never out of his jacket and tie, Frank’s straight talking approach and resolve to forge progress has left a legacy in crop science and in the farming practises of the estate.”

Mr Oldfield, who was born in 1936 in Ripon, was also a keen cricket enthusiast.

“He was almost adopted by Norfolk, but you couldn’t ever waver him from Yorkshire cricket club” said his son.

Mr Oldfield died on October 15. He leaves his wife Sheila, son Stephen, daughter Rosemary and four grandchildren. The family will hold a private cremation service, but a thanksgiving service is due to follow at the Raynham Estate at a later date, when social distancing restrictions allow.

• Online donations in memory of Mr Oldfield are invited for either the UK Dementia Research Institute (UKDRI) or the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution (RABI).

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