Obituary: Laurie Bannister, an innovator in farming methods and marketing

Influential East Anglian farmer Lawrence Bannister, who died on March 26, 2017. aged 89. Picture: An

Influential East Anglian farmer Lawrence Bannister, who died on March 26, 2017. aged 89. Picture: Anglian Produce. - Credit: Anglian Produce

Farmer Laurie Bannister gave early indications of his entrepreneurial skills. At just 14 he was catching moles in the grounds of his boarding school, curing and drying the skins in the lockers and selling moleskin to a merchant in Bury St Edmunds for a shilling each.

He then used the cash to buy bread rolls which he sold at a profit to his fellow pupils.

Lawrence Henry Bannister, who died on March 26 in Broughton, Hampshire, aged 89, carved his name in East Anglian farming history through innovation in farming methods and marketing.

He ran five farms covering almost 1,000 acres on the Norfolk-Suffolk borders between 1948 and 1987 and was a founding member and long-serving chairman of Anglian Produce Ltd, the UK's largest potato marketing co-operative at that time, handling 120,000 tonnes a year.

He was an active member of the NFU (National Farmers' Union) for 40 years and was made an OBE in 1985 for his services to agriculture.

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Laurie Bannister was born in Oulton Broad, near Lowestoft, on October 27, 1927, the only son of farmer Earnest Knight Bannister. He was evacuated during the war, aged 12, and while lodged in Bath was thrown together with another evacuee of the same surname – Roger Bannister who later broke the four minute mile record.

He was educated at Culford School near Bury St Edmunds and what later became Nottingham School of Agriculture where he was president of the Student Union.

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He began farming on the family farm at Oulton Broad in 1948, the same year he married Mary Nicholls who later became an established oil pastels artist. The couple had four sons, Stephen, Owen, Robert and Roger. Mary died in 2004.

Mr Bannister's first solo farming venture was at the 100 acre Lodge Farm at Gisleham, Lowestoft, in 1952 with 25 Guernsey cows from his father's renowned Whitton herd. He then built his farming business through contracting and bought his first combine harvester second-hand in the 1950s. Within three years he was running a fleet of three combines harvesting 1,000 acres a year of cereals, peas and clover seed. The sight of three combines working one field led the local press to compare East Anglia with the Canadian prairies.

Laurie Bannister built his farming business from 100 to 1,000 acres in the sixties buying and tenanting farms in the Beccles area.

He took the tenancy to 320-acre Roos Hall Farm in Beccles in 1959, added 165 acres of marshes at Barsham in 1960, bought 140 acres at White House Farm, Ringsfield near Beccles in 1961 – his home for 40 years – and the 85-acre Lodge Farm, Barsham, in 1963.

Three years later he took the tenancy to the 183-acre Barsham Hall Farm and in 1970 rented the 107-acre White House Farm in Barsham. He sold up in 1987, and retired from Anglian Produce in 1989, after 22 years as chairman, and from Beccles NFU in 1994.

He worked on and chaired many NFU and MAFF (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food) committees at regional and national level including a London Potato Forum and was a member of the Potato Marketing Board Cooperative Consulting Committee.

He also had a long association with the Lower Waveney Internal Drainage Board, reclaiming marshland and scrub to grow good crops of potatoes and cereals. His work in reclaiming this land was an immense personal challenge and included withstanding the loss of 300 acres of crops to floods in one year.

The Waveney marshes he fought so hard to tame has now reverted to rough grazing and reedbed with the last block bought by the Suffolk Wildlife Trust in 2009.

Mr Bannister took on another challenge in retirement – restoring and rebuilding from scratch the Compton cinema organ which was played by organist Nigel Ogden, presenter of the BBC's 'The Organist Entertains', once the task was completed.

He moved to Eye in Suffolk in 2000 before moving to live with one of his sons in Hampshire. He leaves four sons and 12 grandchildren and a great-grandchild.

A cremation will be held in Basingstoke on April 12. Donations to Naomi House Children's Hospice, Sutton Scotney, Winchester, as an alternative to flowers.

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