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The Henry Plumb Foundation

Lord Henry Plumb creates Foundation for young people.

Henry Plumb, known to many in the agricultural industry, is a personality who has shaped our industry; from NFU President in the 1970’s to European Parliament President in the 1980’s, from leading marches on Whitehall to creating and leading the International Food and Agriculture Trade Policy Council championing equitable and open trade, Lord Plumb has raised the profile of UK Agriculture over many decades.

He has given much but wants to do more for young people and create a lasting legacy, providing a “leg up”, opening eyes to opportunities, providing access to influencers to match the drive and enthusiasm of youth.

Henry Plumb

Lord Henry Pumb

As a result The Henry Plumb Foundation will be officially launched on the 25th of October 2012 at a reception in the House of Lords in front of 150 invited guests and donors. Its target is to raise £2million, with the annual income used to provide scholarships and bursaries to young people and a mentoring network, all to deliver against 4 key aims:

  • To improve the communication skills of young people
  • To identify and encourage young entrepreneurs who do not have the circumstances to go forward without help
  • To allow young people to understand the characteristics required to ensure successful leadership and to recognise the power of teams of people
  • To help graduates to obtain relevant post-graduate training that will give them the skills to lead in the UK or overseas

My life in agriculture has been a tremendous experience” explains Lord Plumb. “I feel very privileged and I would not change a single thing and am heartened by the progress we have made in so many areas of farming. I feel passionate that we as an industry seek to encourage young people to become good farmers, I would like them to be expert in managing their affairs and I want our leaders of tomorrow to be fully conversant in policy matters at national, European and global levels. Agriculture, as much as any other industry, lives in a global economy; we must not be frightened of this but educated enough to make the most of the opportunities that arise. My Foundation will, I hope, be a catalyst for young people to take advantage of these opportunities and bring success to themselves and vibrancy to our industry”.

So what could the Foundation mean practically? Professor John Alliston, from the Royal Agricultural College and one of the trustees explains “In general the Foundation is targeting those under 25 and is driven by two objectives:

  • To promote leadership, technical and political awareness and entrepreneurial skills amongst young farmers and the next generation of people involved with agriculture and food production in the UK.
  • To foster links and exchanges between young people involved in farming.

Help could be provided in a number of practical ways:

  • As a grant and used for example for a business start up, funding as an intern, overseas exchanges, attendance at technical, management or leadership courses,
  • Or on the provision of a relevant business mentor for a period of up to 2 years

Lord Plumb is an inspiration to us all, spending his life joining with others firmly believing that participation is the key to influencing events and getting things done. The criterion for his Foundation is wide and we would really encourage young people to be a “participator” and register their interest. I would like to say the same for potential donors, if you feel able to support this cause then please do register your interest”, concludes Professor Alliston.

The Foundation would be delighted to hear from you either as a potential donor or as a young person seeking help. In both cases please register your interest at and we will be in touch.


Brief Biography of Lord Henry Plumb

In 1940, when Henry Plumb was 15 and attending the King Edward VI School at Nuneaton, his father arrived to see the headmaster. Young Henry was called into the head masters study where his father was standing to be told that he would be leaving school to return home to help on the family farm. The 2nd World War had taken all able bodied men to be soldiers and Plumb senior was unable to run the farm alone. Consolingly the head master said “Don’t worry Plumb. This War can’t last more than six months; there will still be a place here for you when it’s over”.

Henry didn’t see it in quite the same way. He was delighted to be leaving school to work on the farm where he milked the cows – by hand – sorted potatoes, kept 300 acres in order, and generally became his father’s right hand man. It was hard work but he loved it and it turned out to be an ideal training ground for the varied career that followed. He never did go back to school.

He also benefitted from his local Young Farmers Club at Coleshill, Warwickshire, of which he soon became an enthusiastic member, excelling in stock judging, ploughing competitions and, predictably, public speaking. Young Farmers lived up to its reputation as a marriage bureau for him too. He married fellow member, Marjorie, in 1947, a partnership that produced three children and continues to this day.

In 1952 when he was 27 Henry’s world fell apart when his father died suddenly at the age of 58. He was on his own and having to deal with the farm, death duties, and the inevitable re-organisation of the business. The National Farmers Union County secretary proved an invaluable confidante through these troubled times and later persuaded Henry to become active in the County Branch, of which his father had been chairman. Truth be told, he agreed to do it more out of loyalty to his late father than love of agricultural politics.

But the deeper he became involved in the Union the more this changed. Pretty soon he was representing Warwickshire on the NFU Council, chairing meetings and speaking around the country, often about the big debate of the time – the possibility of Britain joining the EEC. His clear sighted vision for the farming industry was being recognised by his fellow NFU members and in 1964 he was elected as Vice President of the NFU at the age of 38 – the youngest ever office holder of the Union.

Three years later he was elected as Deputy President and in 1970 to the top job of President, a position he held for nine years. His election coincided with an increase in public hostility towards farmers because of the price guarantees awarded each February in government Farm Price Reviews that were perceived as too generous. Stanley Evans MP had a few years previously coined the phrase “Feather Bedded Farmers” and it was a gift to the popular press. Governments had responded by reducing those prices and some sectors of agriculture were suffering.

Henry decided it was time to put the record straight and on Feb 2nd 1970 led a march of farmers across London to Whitehall. Farmers loved him for it; government hated it. But it added to his credibility as the farmer’s champion, a reputation he retains. And he was still awarded a Knighthood by the Queen three years later.

He decided it was time to give up the NFU Presidency in 1979 and he tells the probably apocryphal story that when he told his son, John, who was running the farm by this time, John asked “What are you going to do now?” Henry replied that he was happy to leave John to run the farm but would come back to help. “So what would you like me to do?” Henry asked. John replied “Well, you can start by brushing the yard”. It was at that point that Henry decided to stand for the European Parliament – or so he says.

In fact he was elected an MEP for the Cotswolds in 1979 and continued to represent the constituency until 1999. Almost immediately after his election he was appointed Chairman of the European Parliaments Committee on Agriculture. There followed a catalogue of chairmanships and presidencies of various European Parliamentary bodies culminating in the Presidency of the European Parliament itself from 1987 to 1989. It was also in 1987 that he was created Baron of Coleshill in the County of Warwickshire and he remains an active member of the House of Lords.

Paradoxically perhaps for a boy who left school at fifteen he has been awarded more honorary doctorates and fellowships of academic organisations than there is space to mention – many of them by countries where his agricultural and political expertise has been recognised and valued. He has also given unstintingly of his time to lead charitable bodies in Britain and abroad whose objectives have varied from a range of agricultural interests (NSA, IFAP), through rural youth (YFC’s, RAC), rural stress (RABI), the RASE, and many more.

Of particular note on the world stage has been the International Food and Agricultural Trade Policy Council, better known as IPC, which, with help from the Rockefeller Foundation, he founded. His objective, against the background at the time of the Uruguay Round, was to promote international trade in agricultural commodities that was more open, equitable and sustainable than previously. He chaired the organisation from its formation in 1987 until 2001 and remains its chief inspiration. He has, over those years brought together opinion formers and decision makers from around the world with a view to building consensus on matters such as global food security, increasing productivity and economic growth and development.

Through it all he has maintained the image and demeanour of an English Yeoman Farmer – the title of a book written by some of his many friends as a tribute to him – and is still affectionately regarded by his farming peers as “Our Henry”.

And now, in his senior years, he is keen to leave a legacy to the industry in which he started and which he loves so much; a legacy that might start other young people along the kind of path he has trod with such distinction for so long; a legacy that will proudly bear his name for many years to come.


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