The voice of British farmers to step down from NFU

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The Independent Online

Sir Ben Gill, the public face of Britain's farmers during the foot-and-mouth disease crisis of 2001, announced he is standing down as President of the National Farmers' Union.

Sir Ben, who has been president since 1998 and, before that, deputy president, vice-president and livestock chairman, said he would not seek re-election when the top post comes up again in February.

A dry and genial Yorkshireman who produces sugar beet, cereals and sheep on his own 360-acre mixed farm at Easingwold in the Dales, Sir Ben was rarely off TV screens when Britain's national cattle herd was being slaughtered on a massive scale during the FMD outbreak two-and-a-half years ago.

He was a key player in many of the decisions taken, not least because, throughout his tenure, he has had ready access to the Government and, in particular, to Tony Blair.

Earlier, he had loudly championed farmers when, at the end of the 1990s, economic circumstances combined to send their incomes plunging.

"I have been enormously proud to have served as president," he said yesterday. "It has been a testing and demanding time. But I believe we are now reaching a watershed. The hard-won reforms to the CAP (Common Agricultural Policy) should soon start to deliver benefits. The weakening of the pound is bringing relief to some sectors.

"And the NFU has undergone the radical changes necessary to make it an organisation fit to fight for farmers' interests into the 21st century."