National Farmers' Union: Appendix

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Recent Presidents 1970-1978 Sir Henry Plumb - later Lord Plumb, Warks. 1979-1986 Sir Richard Butler, Essex. 1986-1991 Sir Simon Gourlay, Powys. 1991- 1998 Sir David Naish, Notts. 1998 – Present Sir Ben Gill, Yorks.


Sir Ben Gill – President of the National Farmers' Union86 Ben has been a farmer all his life having taken over the family farm at Hawkhills near Easingwold in North Yorkshire in 1978. He is married to Carolyn and has four sons. Ben Gill's 360 acre farm is a mixed farm producing cereals and sugar beet as well as 500 ewes and store lambs, which are raised on grassland, including an area of traditional parkland. He also produces short-rotation coppice willow for renewable energy.

  • He was elected NFU president in 1998. He had previously served six years as Deputy president and a year as Vice president.
  • Before becoming Vice president, he chaired the Livestock and Wool Committee for four years.
  • He also chaired the Alternative Crops Working Party and the Long Term Strategy Group, which in 1993, produced the Real Choices document that foresaw the future role of decoupling.

Ben Gill has also worked extensively outside the NFU.

  • Before becoming involved with the NFU, he worked in Uganda and has maintained an interest in the African continent through his involvement with FARM Africa (‘an organisation which aims to show the poorest rural communities ways of producing more food, thus becoming less reliant on aid’87) where he served as a board member from 1991 and 1998.
  • He served a three year term on the Agricultural and Food Research Council until 1994.
  • He also served a three year term on the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).
  • He is on the Governing Council of the John Innes Centre at Norwich (a post he still holds). The John Innes Centre is a plant breeding centre that is very focused on developing GM technology. Ben Gill is nicknamed by some, 'Biotech Ben'.
  • He was also the Chairman of the EC Sheep Meat and Goat Meat Advisory Committee from 1989 to 1998.
  • He works widely in Europe as Vice president of the Committee of Agricultural Organisations in the European Union (COPA) and President of the Confederation of European Agriculture (elected September 2002).

In July 2000, Ben Gill was award an honorary degree from Cranfield University School of Management at Silsoe. Cranfield University is where Sean Rickard, former chief economist of the NFU and arch supporter of the big industrial farm model, is now a lecturer. Also receiving a n honorary degree that day was that other champion of industrial processed food, Lord Haskins, former chairman and chief executive of Northern Foods PLC (see Corporate Watch profile).88

Ben Gill was awarded a knighthood in the Queen's Birthday Honours list in June 2003. This follows a CBE which Ben received in 1996 for services to agriculture.

Richard MacDonald – Director General of the National Farmers' Union89 Richard MacDonald was born in 1954 and was brought up in East Africa. He has a degree in Biology from Queen Mary College, London University. After working in France and in the City, Richard joined the NFU in the late 1970s as a parliamentary lobbyist and adviser. In 1985 he became the NFU’s Devon County Secretary and in 1989 the South West Regional Director. Richard then returned to NFU headquarters in 1992 as the Director of Membership and Regions. He was appointed as the NFU’s Director General in July 1996. He is Chairman of the Board of NFU Services Ltd and in June 2002 was awarded the CBE for Services to Agriculture in the Queen’s Birthday Honours. Richard is also a member of the DEFRA Strategy for Sustainable Farming and Food Implementation Group. He is also on the steering group for an English Collaborative Group as recommended by the Food and Farming Commission.90 Richard lives in Oxfordshire and is married with two daughters. His interests include cricket and golf and gardening. Some insiders claim that Richard is the eminence grise within the NFU. Considering his relative youth (younger than most farmers) and seeming lack of a farming background, he has nevertheless ascended to the giddy heights of the NFU. In recent years, he has also achieved more of a profile in the media.

Special Mention for: Sean Rickard the former chief economist of the NFU91

Séan Rickard has a background in economics, studying at the London School of Economics, Birkbeck College, London and Cranfield School of Management. From 1987-1994, Sean Rickard was the Chief Economist with the National Farmers' Union. As Chief Economist and Head of the NFU's European and Economics Department, he directed research into - and commented publicly on - a wide range of issues relating to the agricultural and food industries in the UK and the European Union. His key areas of expertise are agricultural policy, (food) supply chain relationships, world trade relationship and the European Union. He has been a member of a number of prominent UK and EU committees and working parties, including the influential CBI's Economic Trends Committee. Since joining Cranfield School of Management in 1994, he has been a member of the Minister of Agriculture's Think Tank on future agricultural and rural policy and an employers´ representative on the Agricultural Wages Board. He wrote New Labour's agricultural manifesto and is currently an academic adviser to the government. His outspoken views of the future of agriculture are regularly heard on radio, television and at public talks. He is also a consultant to various international companies and trade associations including Asken, a countryside management consultancy. Rickard is an unabashed supporter of the free market. He would advocate getting rid of all 'trade-distorting' subsidies and allowing farmers to compete on the world market by getting bigger and employing intensive industrial methods. In his vision, the only value of farming to society is to be a profitable business.

"There is a band of small full time farmers producing 15% of the [countries'] output. These are under pressure and do not have the economies of scale. There is nothing that can or should be done to save them. The top 20% with 80% of the output are in a different league, and can compete with the best in the world. They have the makings of a successful food industry".92

For more details of Rickard's analysis, see special report for the BBC 'Bad Businessmen and Bad Farmers'93


86NFU press release “Farming Honoured” 13th June 2003 §§§ 87'Kenyan farmers can build a brighter future with your help' The Telegraph Magazine, 30 November 2002 Viewed 23/7/03 89Who's Who 2003 and profile on NFU website viewed 23/7/03 90 Viewed 23/7/03 91 Viewed 23/7/03 92"Flamboyant economic pundit Sean Rickard has been upsetting farmers with his radical predictions about the future of their industry." see Viewed 23/7/03 93'Bad Businessmen and Bad Farmers'. Guardian Special report on the farming crisis. 14/9/99 Viewed 23/7/03