Remarkable half-century of Norfolk estate manager

A remarkable career spanning half a century in Norfolk agriculture was highlighted at a celebration lunch at the John Innes Centre.

In his 47 years as manager of the Marquess of Townshend's Raynham estate, Frank Oldfield had pioneered introduction of new crops including oilseed rape and vining peas.

More than 100 industry leaders heard David Richardson, a former president of the Royal Norfolk Agricultural Association, say that Mr Oldfield had enhanced the 'legacies of Raynham'.

'We all know the legacy of Raynham in the agricultural revolution of the 18th century,' he said. 'It was 'Turnip' Townshend who made it possible for farmers to develop what became Norfolk's four-course rotation.'

'In Frank's 47 years at Raynham, he has maintained and enhanced the legacies of Raynham. In view of the pioneering work on oilseeds, might it be appropriate to call him 'Oilseeds Oldfield' or for his contribution to so many facets of agriculture, 'Versatility Frank.'

Mr Richardson recalled that the late Lord Townshend, who was a former RNAA president, and founder chairman of Anglia Television, had wanted an estate manager. He had asked Philip Bolam, then the Norwich-based county officer for the National Advisory Service, to recommend someone for Raynham.

In 1964, he took over about 1,000 acres and was soon farming about 5,000 acres, said Mr Richardson. 'He persuaded Lord Townshend to change his beloved Ayrshire for Friesians and introduced vining peas and a poultry unit and liquid fertilisers.

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'He also introduced oilseed rape, which also led to Mr Oldfield's long-term involvement with United Oilseeds and also a leading role with the Home-Grown Cereals Authority.'

'At the same time, he took on more national responsibilities, chairing the Oxford Farming Conference after three years on the management committee. He was a long-serving member of the Norfolk Agricultural Station, later Morley Research Centre (now NIAB TAG) for many years.'

He had served with great distinction as director of the John Innes Foundation since 1998 and for years with the John Innes Institute.

After Mr Richardson had called for a standing ovation, Mr Oldfield was clearly shaken. In reply, he said that he could not have achieved so much without the team of Raynham staff.

In typical style, he noted another potential opportunity. 'Sugar beet might be the future, depending on and if we could get British Sugar to pay a bit more for beet. I've been fighting British Sugar ever since I came to Norfolk and I don't think that they've done a very good job.

'I trust we might well be on the brink of changing the dynamics and economics of the crop,' he said.

He welcomed the opportunity 'to move from food crops into energy crops' but wondered how much longer it would remain as rewarding. 'We just hope that they don't pull the plug before we get too involved. It does offer new opportunities for farming which must not be lost and it will will alter the economics of the whole supply chain.'