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Farmers' leader who stood up for his beliefs

By Western Daily Press  |  Posted: May 09, 2014

  • Sir Ben led the farming community through the foot and mouth crisis

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The National Farmer' Union announced yesterday the death of its former President, Sir Ben Gill, the man who whose watch co-incided with the foot-and-mouth crisis of 2001.

In its tribute, the NFU desribed Sir Ben, who served as Deputy President between 1992 and 1998 and then President between 1998 and 2004, as "a determined, vocal and passionate advocate for Britain's farming sector".

The union said that he had showed "huge strength of character" during that difficult time, and had become a nationally-known figure as a "formidable fighter for the sector and a champion of British food".

He played a key role in leading British farming through the BSE and foot and mouth crises of the late 1990s and early 2000s, and in calling for major reforms to the Common Agricultural Policy in 2003.

Appointed a CBE in 1996 and knighted in 2004, Sir Ben was a lifelong servant of the industry throughout his long and successful career, more latterly in his role as chairman at Visit Herefordshire.

At the NFU, prior to becoming Deputy President he also served as Chairman of the Union's Livestock Committee. The NFU's President Meurig Raymond, who served on NFU Council when Sir Ben was President, said: "Ben Gill always had a big personality and tremendous determination.

"He led the farming industry through some very difficult times, but he always fought hard on behalf of the NFU's farmer and grower members. Our industry will continue to benefit for a long time as a result of his achievements. Our sympathies are with his wife Lady Carolyn and his four sons."

Sir Don Curry said he first met Sir Ben on a train on their way to their first NFU Council meeting, after which they became best of friends, working together for more than 20 years.

Sir Don told the Farmers Guardian: "He will probably be best remembered for his leadership during the Foot and Mouth crisis. It was a time when the industry needed strong leadership and he delivered that in spades.

"He was highly intelligent and very robust in his representation of the industry. To my mind he was one of the strongest leaders our industry has seen

Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board chairman Peter Kendall, who served as NFU president for eight years, added: "This is a sad loss – Ben was a high profile and enthusiastic farming leader. Our sympathies go to his family."

Sir Ben, who was 64, farmed in Yorkshire until 2006 when he sold most of the cereal, sugar beet and sheep enterprise.

In a 2011 interview with the Farmers Guardian to reflect on the 2001 foot-and-moth cirisis, Sir Ben "acknowledged that it was 'impossible' for him to hold farmer meetings to consult members directly on policy, which meant decisions had to be based more on his own views and of his senior staff than might otherwise have been the case".

But he insisted that when he did meet farmers,they were '100 per cent behind me'.

In that intervies he described the Government response to the outbreak as 'woefully inadequate' and admitted that the scale of the decisions he took, particularly 'weighed heavy' on his mind but he insisted that 10 years on he believed they were right.

"The people who were vociferous in favour of vaccination thought I didn't give a damn and made all sorts of claims that I didn't understand the subject," he said. "There were inevitably animals slaughtered that needn't have been but you have to be hard to be kind. It is a fact that we stamped out disease."

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