Colin Coe: West Norfolk farmer was youngest NFU county chairman

West Norfolk farmer Colin Coe, who has died aged 78, was the youngest-ever leader of the county's farmers.

When he was elected 46 years ago, the tenant farmer at Lower Farm, Bircham, on the Sandringham estate, was the youngest ever chairman of Norfolk National Farmers' Union.

A past chairman of King's Lynn branch, he was just 32 years old and he succeeded another relative neighbour, John Howard, into the solid oak chair at Agriculture House, Norwich.

Mr Coe, who was also a former chairman of King's Lynn Young Farmers' Club, warned in January 1967 that possible entry into the Common Market might be the most important issue in the history of farming.

And he warned: 'If there is any truth in the prime minister's statement that entry will worsen our balance of payments by £250m a year, I cannot but wonder at the enthusiasm shown by politicians of all parties to rush into the unknown,' he added.

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And in his first public speech as Norfolk farmers' leader, he told a 150-strong audience of NFU members of Aylsham, Holt and Reepham branches at Cromer that the cost of living must rise considerably if Britain joined the Common Market.

He highlighted the vast differences in subsidised food prices in Britain and in the rest of Europe.

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But a skilled workforce would be needed and the soon to be launched Agricultural Training Board would have an important role to play, he added.

He ran the family's agricultural haulage business until about six years ago, which had been started by his father, initially specialising in livestock.

It also ran a fleet of lorries carting to British Sugar's former factory at King's Lynn, and was the second biggest haulier in the 1960s and into the 1970s. He took over the tenancy from his father of the light land farm, which extended to about 550 acres, growing mainly barley and sugar beet.

Mr Coe was a regular attender and supporter of the informal annual gathering of former Norfolk NFU chairmen, and took part in last June's proceedings.

A memorial service will be held at Bircham Church on Saturday, January 26 at 2pm.

Michael Pollitt

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