A "loving and cheerful" farmer who devoted time to helping others in the industry and his community has died after a sudden illness, aged 66.

Tributes have been pouring in for Chris Knock - and those who knew and were supported by him have expressed deep shock at his untimely death.

He spent many years working for government bodies which benefited from his deep knowledge of farming and business.

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In the course of his career, he helped officials understand the practicalities and realities of agriculture - while running his own small family farm - Manor Farm at Battisford, near Stowmarket.

The fifth-generation farmer was chairman of the National Farmers' Union Suffolk branch in the early 2000s and pioneered a number of green energy schemes on his 300-acre farm.

He also spent 20 years as parish council chairman - and played a pivotal role in saving his village pub - the Punch Bowl Inn at Battisford, near Stowmarket - back in 2011.

He had a strong entrepreneurial streak, launching hog roast business Hoggies in the 1990s - still going today under different ownership - and a holiday lets business. As a young farmer he developed an automatic ventilation system for his 120 sows which he went on to patent. 

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He was keen on diversifying farm businesses to make them more profitable and in 2017, the family launched Welhams Meadow Holiday Lodges after installing three on-farm cabins which are still going strong.

Most recently he put his considerable knowledge of farming and conservation to good use as chairman of Suffolk FWAG (Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group) - a body which advises farmers about conservation and environmental work on their farms.

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He was praised for his practical help in cutting through red tape and getting projects over the line - but also for his kindness and ability to listen.

"He was always very cheerful and was innovative - always thinking ahead," said his wife of 38 years Maggie.

"I always said he was more intelligent than me because he always had an intelligent opinion on things - he would read an awful lot."

Chris was born at Hall Farm House in Battisford in 1957 and had three siblings - Sarah, Penny and the late Eddie. He attended Ipswich School  from 1968 to 1975 before joining the Royal Airforce Air Cadet Flying Scholarship Scheme. 

He went on to study agriculture at Wye College in Kent and graduated from Essex University (Writtle College) with a degree in agriculture in 2000.

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He was a keen sportsman, joining the college rowing club - and met his future wife through rowing at Sudbury Rowing Club.

"There was always a sporting interest there - he loved his sport and was very interested in everybody," said Maggie. 

The couple went on to have two children - James and Georgina. They were both encouraged to do their own thing - but the family farm was always there in the background, said Maggie.

Last summer he had a "great time" travelling to Iceland with his son and he strongly supported Georgina in her agricultural career, she added.

He was also sociable and at every function he attended he would try and meet everyone, and hear what they had to say.

East Anglian Daily Times: East Anglian Daily Times: "He was just so lovely - that's why I married him. As a man he had this kindness that he wasn't afraid to show. He was always very bashful about taking praise," she added.

Daughter Georgina remembered his optimism and energy. He was "young in spirit and enthusiastic about new ideas, the future of farming and where that's heading and always wanting to find how to solve those problems in the best way possible - and yet just had time for everything", she said. He also cared about the community, she added.

He was hard-working, combining his day job with running the farm and community activities. In the evenings, Maggie recalled, he would return to his laptop after dinner to continue working.

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Up until he retired in 2023, he spent seven years as external funding lead at Babergh and Mid Suffolk District Council - helping them to access external funding for projects including the restoration of Shotley Pier.

Before that he worked as a rural development manager with the East of England Development Agency, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and the Rural Payments Agency (RPA).

"Having him within DEFRA or the RPA was such a bonus to the farming community because he could put the farming point of view," said Maggie.

In 2007 while at EEDA, he used a Farmers Club Charitable Bursary to visit Brussels, Switzerland, Sweden and Germany and study the integration of carbon-friendly practices into farming policies. He was then director of Agricultural Development in the Eastern Region (ADER) and believed farmers had a major role to play in addressing climate change.

Chris's hobbies included archery, paramotoring, skiing and carpentry.

He died at Ipswich Hospital's Critical Care Unit on January 10 after a short illness. By chance, on the day of his death, 2,000 trees were being collected from the farm by volunteers at Suffolk FWAG to be planted. These will now be dedicated to him.

Among those to pay tribute to him was Graham Card, who sits on the management committee at the Punch Bowl Inn.

In 2011 Graham and a few others went to the parish council with their concerns that the village local would be lost. Chris, who was chairman of the council at the time, stepped in to help.

"He absolutely got it - he embraced our concerns," he recalled. It led to a meeting with the district council and pub owners - and a community group created to run the pub.

"We quickly formed an action group. Chris became the bona fide leader of that group," he said.

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They formed a Community Interest Company (CIC) and became the first such group in Suffolk to run their own pub. Chris - who was able to understand the mechanics behind the new structure - became chairman of the board and remained with it until five or six years ago.

The CIC now leases the pub on favourable terms from a new owner and employs a manager and chef to run operations. 

"To me he was the go-to person, the confidant I could go to," said Graham.

"He was a soft yet determined and a charismatic man. He engaged people around him. Without his enthusiasm and drive we would not have got to where are today," he explained.

"He was certainly the leading light in making sure we got some of that framework right and gained some of the support and a viable structure for us to move forward. We would not have done it without him."

Stephen Rash - who was Suffolk NFU chairman in 2002/03 - said Chris, who served as his deputy before taking over as chairman in his own right in 2004/05, said he was a "very supportive and active" deputy who had done a lot for Suffolk over the years.

"He was great fun and a great chap and very committed to farming in general - not just the NFU," he added.

Suffolk FWAG chief executive Anna Beames said Chris's death was a "massive shock" to the whole team. He helped instil a "wonderful camaraderie" and was "alive and with us now" through his legacy, she added. 

"FWAG had the last of him and I think we had the best of him," she said. "Chris loved solutions."

He loved being no longer constrained by bureaucracy and able to help, she added.

"He had exceptional qualities. He was considered and he was a calculated risk taker," she said. "It's that steadiness that's needed. He was a thinking farmer."

Maggie said he was "so proud" to be chairman of the organisation - of which his parents were founding members - and was always planting trees and hedgerows on the farm.

After being diagnosed with lymphoma he put up a brave fight, said his family, who wanted to thank staff for the medical care he received and well-wishers for the cards, letters and wishes they sent.

"Chris' kindness touched the lives of many within the agricultural community, and he will be dearly missed by all," the family said.

There will be a private family cremation, and all who knew Chris are welcome to attend a Celebration of Life service that will take place in spring at St Marys Church in Battisford.