Rural – Jersey Country Life Magazine

MARCEL HOUZÉ: R.I.P.

Marcel Houzé, who has died aged 89, was a successful dairy farmer and a former chairman of the Jersey Milk Marketing Board from 1994 to 1999, a period of substantial growth during which the output of Jersey milk reached heights it has never since surpassed.

Mr Houzé took over Lodge Farm, Maufant, from his father in 1963. When his parents bought the property in 1950, it was a traditional mixed farm with a herd of six cows and a farm horse for work in the fields. Under his ownership the farm was expanded over subsequent decades; in 2023 the farm now milks 220 cows and raises over 140 head of young-stock.

Quite apart from his farming career – and of equal importance to him – was his commitment to the Roman Catholic Church in Jersey, and specifically to his home parish of Our Lady in St Martin. He was always involved with fund raising and the organisation of church fêtes.  As chairman of the St Thomas’ Finance Committee, he oversaw the first restoration of that church in the 1970s. He was a lifelong member of the Knights of St Columba and was made a Grand Knight of that Order.  In 2010, he received a commendation for his 50th anniversary of becoming a member.   

If there is a mantra that sums up Mr Houzé life, then it has to be ‘Family’, ‘Faith’ and ‘Farm’. It has been said that his intense pride in his family mattered the most to him. He took huge pleasure from the arrival of a new grandchild or great-grandchild and their achievements were a great source of satisfaction to him.

Marcel Pierre Houzé was born in 1934, the youngest of five children of Louis and Yvonne Houzé (née Berezai). Louis Houzé’s father had come from the Portbail area of Normandy in the late 19th Century, initially to work on the land for the potato season, and later to settle.

Louis, who was a French citizen, served in the French army during the First World War and afterwards worked on several Jersey farms. His first wife died in childbirth; Yvonne was herself a widow at the time of their marriage.

Marcel Houzé attended St Martin’s School and then de la Salle College, leaving there at the age of 15 to work on his family farm., to which his parents had moved in 1944. His mother had cycled past the farm, ‘The Lodge’  in  Maufant, one day and saw a ‘to let’ notice – she had decided it was time for her family to farm in their own right as opposed to working for other farmers.  The property then consisted of railway carriages formerly belonging to the Jersey Eastern Railway, together with some agricultural sheds.  They bought the property six years later in 1950.

Mr Houzé joined his parents on the farm in that same year. He married his wife, Anne, in 1956 and they took over the farm in 1963.

He had a passion for growing daffodils and was one of the first of the Island’s farmers to have an ‘honesty box’ near the farm gates on the main road – it has been  recalled that the sight of the Lodge Farm daffodils on sale Daffodils always signified the arrival of spring to passers-by!

Apart from daffodils, the farm also were major producers of anemones and indoor iris for the export trade, as well as 250 vergées of Jersey Royals by the late 1990s.

The dairying side of the business expanded in 1969, with the construction of new cattle stalls for 25 cows. In 1973, he was joined by his son, Paul, and later, by another son, David, who was mainly responsible for the farm’s potato growing side of the business. The farm became a limited company in 1975, one of the first Jersey farms to be incorporated.  A new shed and parlour were added in 1978, the year that Mr Houzé joined the Jersey Milk Marketing Board as a farmer representative.

Ten years later he became its vice-chairman and then chairman in 1994, serving in that post until 1999 – a total of 21 years of dedicated service. This was the era of the ‘minipot’ – sold under 26 different labels to companies and corporations, including British Airways.

At its climax, the minipot trade accounted for 45% of the dairy’s 18.5m litre output. By contrast, the total output in 2023 has been 14m litres.  

The minipot success story came to an abrupt end when, as a result of massive EU funding, the Irish dairy industry was able to generate its own minipot industry and  undercut the Jersey Dairy;  it has been compared to ‘an Exocet missile fired at Jersey dairy farmers’.  As a result, the Island’s dairy industry commenced, perforce,  a long period of reorganisation comprising an exit scheme for farmers and reduced production to suit the new market conditions.

The ‘lesson learnt’ from the collapse of the minipot market was for the industry not to put all its eggs in one basket.

After stepping down as the JMMB charman, Mr Houzé gradually stepped back from farming and had handed over the reins of Lodge Farm to his son, Paul. However, he continued to help out and acted as a delivery driver for Lodge Farm Supplies Ltd,

a company he and Paul set up in 2001; thus he kept a close contact with his farming friends.

In a long retirement, he and his wife enjoyed travelling extensively to many distant  countries often with groups of friends.  He was also a keen member of St Saviour’s Bowls Club.

Mr Houzé has been described as a hard-working farmer with a sharp business brain who was adept at managing business risks and opportunities as they presented themselves. The kitchen table at Lodge Farm became the hub of operations  and Marcel has been likened to Pa Larkin in ‘The Darling Buds of May’. He was a safe pair of hands at the JMMB, but always a ‘people person’, with an outgoing and friendly manner who was always cheerful and smiling and had a great sense of humour.  

Mr Houze is survived by his wife Anne (née Jehan), his sons, Paul, David and Michael and by their families, to whom RURAL magazine extends its sympathy.

Expanded from an obituary in the Jersey Evening Post and reproduced on this website with their kind permission

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