John Beckett FRAgS 1935 – 2016

John Beckett’s contribution to the industry and his extensive knowledge, wisdom and advice over a career spanning more than 50 years have helped to shape many of today’s agri-businesses. He was a highly respected director of Belton Cheese, his family’s Shropshire based award winning cheese making business and had recently retired as company chairman.

His numerous positions within the industry included RABDF president in 2007, which co-incided with my chairmanship. John gave willingly of his time and provided me with an enormous amount of support both professionally and ensuring the work life balance was maintained. He was presented the RABDF Princess Royal Award for his outstanding services to the industry in 2012. The following year he received the RASE National Agricultural Award.

Despite his early reluctance to becoming a dairy farmer, John studied agriculture, eventually inherited Belton Farm, and developed the premium cheese-making business from processing an annual 1m litres in 1970 to today’s operation sourcing milk from 85 local farmers. Belton cheese is retailed throughout the UK and to a growing export market.  

John was also involved in business outside the family operation; he was chairman of the NWF Group, a director of Godwins Cheese, and chairman of MK Richmond Ltd John Deere dealership. Most notably, he was the inaugural chairman of Genus PLC; over his 10 year period of tenure he transformed a small UK cattle breeding and consultancy company worth £30m and operating in a diminishing marketplace to a global multi species genetics and biotechnology PLC worth £800m. He described those as ‘exciting times, taking some high risks’, the biggest being the purchase of ABS Global from a New York venture capitalist for £10m.

He cited one of his biggest achievements in the early days of his Genus chairmanship as recruiting ‘the best’ chief executive. However recruiting directors within the agricultural sector presented a huge challenge to John whose passion was to help young people acquire the business knowledge that he felt was lacking in some parts of the industry, believing that if farmers are to compete on more equal terms then they need to fully embrace the science of management.

To this end John established the MBA Agrifarm Charitable Fund, administered by The Worshipful Company of Farmers and staged at the Cranfield School of Management offering an elite course designed to train future British farm business and industry leaders.

He leaves a widow, four children, one step son, numerous mentorees and many successful businesses he has been instrumental in developing throughout his career. 
RABDF Council member, Lyndon Edwards

A service of thanksgiving is to be held at St. Alkmunds’s Church, Whitchurch, Shropshire at 12 noon on Friday 18 March 2016.