THE farming world is mourning the death of the man who steered the path through two of the industry’s worst crises.

Sir Ben Gill, president of the National Farmers’ Union from 1998 to 2004, has died at the age of 64 following a long illness.

During his time in office he gained a reputation as a formidable fighter for farmers – and led them through the agricultural catastrophes of BSE and the 2001 foot-and-mouth outbreak.

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He was born in York and educated at Barnard Castle School before reading agriculture at St John’s College, Cambridge.

After teaching in Idi Amin’s Uganda for three years, he returned to run a pig farm in East Yorkshire, before returning to Easingwold in 1978 to take over the family farm at Hawkhills.

Current president Meurig Raymond 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."

His great friend Sir Don Curry, who farms in Northumberland and is a former chairman of the Meat and Livestock Commission, also paid tribute.

He said Sir Ben would 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 and he will be sorely missed."

Sir Ben was also a supporter of a badger cull to stop the spread of bovine TB, and held several other roles in the agricultural industry, including chairman of Westbury Dairies and Eden Research.

Sir Ben was appointed a CBE in 1996 and knighted in 2003.

In 2006 he sold the farm at Easingwold but kept the house and buildings to create the Hawkhills Consultancy, which advises the agrifood industry and the renewable energy sector.

He and his family moved to Herefordshire where he became chairman of Visit Herefordshire.

He married in 1973 and is survived by his widow, Lady Carolyn, and four sons.