John Cannon MBE – (1931-2023)

It is with profound sadness that we share the news of the passing of John Ireland Blackburne Cannon MBE.  John was a beloved father, grandfather and brother and leaves behind 3 children and 7 grandchildren.

A private family funeral was held in December and a public memorial celebrating his life will be held at Plaxtol Church at Midday on 20th January 2024.

John was born and began farming from a young age in Tasmania, Australia in the 1930s. Here he would help his family tend the dairy herd on Gunns Plains at a farm called Levengrove. The farm was known for its delicious cream and milk. Later during the 1940s he enlisted in the Australian home guard as young boy. John remembered the farm fondly years later and would often travel back to Australia. His family had moved to Australia from the UK after the First World War. In 2009, during a trip to Australia, John would be keen to stay in the tin roof side of a friends house where he would hope for rain. He would say that the sound of the rain on the tin roof “was comforting and also meant good milk was on the way”.

John returned to the UK in the late 1940s/1950s with his parents and siblings to farm Oxenhoath, West Peckham. Here he farmed a range of crops and all around Roughway Farm, Plaxtol which was independent of the Oxenhoath Estate.

Later after the family sold Oxenhoath, John acquired Roughway Farm and this became his home and centre of farming operations. He would farm Roughway and parts of the former Oxenhoath Estate for the rest of his life. The farm would see many crops during his time including hops, soft fruits and cobnuts. In retirement this was carried on by his son Giles Cannon who helped the farm expand. John remained an active farmer in retirement, keen to keep the farm tidy and share ideas, once commenting to his grandson when discussing cobnuts “what’s the point of being 90 if you haven’t got any good ideas”.

A passionate farmer John was committed to rural life locally and nationally. He became Chairman of the local NFU branch in 1976 and was NFU County Chairman for Kent in 1983/84.

At the time John referred to the food surpluses of the time and expressed an opinion that a surplus of food was always desirable over a shortage. John was a very good spokesman for Kent farmers during his tenure. Speaking regularly on apple production, soft fruits and cobnuts. He also led a delegation of Kent Pig Farmers to meet with Deputy Agriculture Commissioner in Brussels in 1984.

John went on to Chair the board of the Apple Growers Association and achieved much for the Apple industry during a period of change.

John was also heavily committed to the local environment and local community. As part of his involvement with the Kent Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group he helped fundraise to employ an advisor for the group. The advisor post lasted for many years and made a lasting contribution to many Kent farms and local wildlife.

In a speech to fellow farmers, many years ahead of its time, he said that farming good practice and conservation should not be left the generosity of farmers and should have support of government. Many decades later, these ideas proved to be in a range of government bills including the 2018 Agriculture Bill.

John during his life would receive a number of awards for Environmental Management and Conservation. He also identified the important link between the need for native UK nut production and the work to save our native red squirrels. He would become well known by many red squirrel organisations and keep up to date with how the reds were doing.

Above all else John was a stalwart for the Kentish Cobnut Industry.

John founded the Kentish Cobnuts Association in the early 1990’s in response to proposed EU legislation banning the sale of all fresh nuts. This was counter to the unique fresh nut eating tradition that had been established in Kent and had been common across the UK for 100’s of years. Indeed, the Kentish Cobnut had been bred as a fresh eating nut with creamy flavour when fresh and not needing to be dried, blanched or roasted for flavour like other hazelnuts.

John called a meeting of nut growers and, with the help of the National Farmers Union, the Government was persuaded to oppose the legislation and save nut growing in Britain.

John went on to be Chairman of the KCA for 14 years and then became President for the following years until his passing. In total he was a leading figure in the KCA for over 30 years. Without John’s continued enthusiasm, leadership and knowledge during that period it is likely that the KCA could have folded.

A member of the Cobnut Association said that “John bought together a significant group of people to form the Kent Cobnut Association and in doing so provided a focal point for the collection and dissemination of information that is so essential to revitalising and progressing the British nut industry”.

John also significantly increased the profile of Kentish Cobnuts by assisting with extensive media coverage. Over the years John managed to discuss cobnuts with a range of celebrity chefs and also raise the profile on BBC Countryfile and BBC Radio 4.

Thanks to this work growing cobnuts is no longer in decline and without John Cannon it is almost certain the industry would be almost extinct. Indeed, there is now new plantings of nuts across the country and the cobnut association is in good health having had two successful chairmen; Alexander Hunt and Gillian Jones after John stood down and became President. John’s grandson Tom Cannon took over the role of Chairman of the KCA in November 2023.

In 2019, John Cannon was awarded an MBE in the Queen’s New Years Honours for Services to the British Cobnut Industry a fine recognition for a lifetime of service to farming and the cobnut industry. This was awarded to him by Lady Colgrain the Lord-Lieutenant of Kent. Among family John would share a family motto that broadly translated as “As I am. I shall Remain”.  He was very keen whenever talking about his MBE to highlight the work of the many others involved in the Kent Cobnut Association.

After meeting John, Lady Colgrain went on to establish The Kent Lieutenancy Cobnut Platt at East Malling Research, an initiative to mark The Platinum Jubilee in 2022 and as a lasting tribute to Her Late Majesty The Queen. John attended the ceremony marking its creation with his wife Rosemary and was delighted to see a new cobnut platt being established at NIAB EMR a centre of agricultural innovation and scientific advancement.

During his life John gave his time to many rural organisations hosting them and through quiet diplomacy and influence had a profound effect across Kent and beyond. John was a countryman and was one of the last of a unique generation of local Kent farmers. He will be deeply missed by his family and by the many people who knew him.