Retired Aberdeenshire farmer, Sylvester (Sylvie or Vester) Campbell, who was the oldest surviving former president of the National Farmers Union of Scotland, has died at the age of 94.

Mr Campbell was president of the union in 1974/75 at a period of crisis when beef cattle prices collapsed as a result of Irish cattle flooding into Scotland. The new Labour government, with Fred Peart as agricultural minister, refused to implement the EEC system of support for beef after the previous Conservative government had dismantled the long-standing UK system of deficiency payments. Beef farmers were left in limbo with no support to compensate for low prices.

It was a year of bad weather, beef cattle prices fell from £20/cwt to £11/cwt and many farmers were badly hurt financially.

Hundreds of farmers mounted protests at a march down Princes Street in Edinburgh and at Merkland Docks in Glasgow, where they tried to prevent cattle being imported from Ireland. They were disgruntled by the lack of support from the union for militant action and the Caithness branch went as far as calling for the resignation of the union’s president. The situation was defused when Mr Campbell, accompanied by the union’s chief executive, the late Harry Munro, turned up at Merkland to meet the protesters with a case of whisky in the boot of their car!

Mr Munro later said it was the roughest year he had experienced in his long time as chief executive and the toughest year any president of the union had experienced. At that time, the president served for only one year.

“Sylvester Campbell received scant thanks for a valuable lot of work he put in to his year of office,” Mr Munro said at the time.

But most farmers appreciated Mr Campbell’s efforts on their behalf and a large company turned up to thank him at his testimonial dinner in the Elphinstone Hall at Aberdeen University. No fewer than nine speakers paid tribute to Mr Campbell that night at a dinner which went on in to the wee sma’ hours.

Mr Campbell, the seventh Sylvester in succession in the Campbell family (the first Sylvester hailed from farming stock in Durris in the 18th century) followed his father at Cairntradlin Farm, Kinellar, in the 1950s, quickly moving on from the Beef Shorthorn breed for which the farm was renowned to specialise in commercial beef cattle, pigs, arable and, for a time, strawberries.

He was active in the young farmers movement as a member of the Inverurie club and a member of the club team which won the national speechmaking competition in 1947 as well as doing well in stockjudging competitions.

He 'graduated' from young farmers in1950 at the age of 25 to join the union, where he soon made his mark as Inverurie branch chairman, Aberdeen and Kincardine area president and serving on the national council as vice-convener of the cereals committee and convener of the livestock committee for five years from 1969 to 1974, before being elected national president in 1974.

It was the time of the annual price review and Mr Campbell found himself travelling to London on a regular basis for negotiations with the Ministry of Agriculture, along with his counterparts in the other UK farmers’ unions.

He confined his comments to his year as president as a 'real corker' but took some satisfaction in being in the negotiating team which secured a new support system for beef with the introduction of the variable premium and intervention, as a compromise between the EEC and the old deficiency payments system.

It was no surprise that his dedicated work on behalf of his fellow farmers and the respect in which he was held by the powers-that-be with whom he negotiated, resulted in the award of the OBE in 1986.

But he was not idle after stepping down from the union and his experience and knowledge was put to good use as chairman of the Meat Promotion Executive, set up by the Meat and Livestock Commission to promote British meat at home and abroad and funded by a statutory levy, chairman for four years of the Aberdeen Endowments Trust, owners of 40 tenanted farms covering 10,000 acres in the North-east, and in 1986 being elected a director of Aberdeen and Northern Marts (ANM), serving for 10 years during a time of significant change when many marts were closed, the Thainstone Centre was built, and a new mart built at Quoybrae in Caithness.

He also served as a director and vice-chairman of the strawberry marketing co-op, Harlaw Fruit; as director of the Royal Northern Agricultural Society; president of Echt Show; and a member of the Scottish board of NFU Mutual.

Throughout his farming career he practised what he preached as a strong believer in the co-operative principle and this shone through in his active involvement with a succession of farmers’ co-ops, notably Cairnwell Pigs, Harlaw Fruit and ANM. Most of his cattle, sheep and pigs were marketed over the years through co-ops, including FMC, Buchan Meat Producers, Grampian (now Scottish) Pig Producers and ANM subsidiary, AMMCO (later Scotch Premier Meat).

Away from farming, he was a governor of Robert Gordon’s College for three years; session clerk of Kinellar Parish Church; and a member of Garioch Probus Club until the time of his death.

He remained active in his retirement, visiting a number of countries, including Argentina and Australia, and took great pleasure right up until a few weeks ago in meeting up with friends of his own vintage for lunch at the weekly sale at Thainstone Mart, where they became affectionately known as the 'Last of the Summer Wine' although, as they debated all that was going on locally and nationally, they considered themselves to be the 'House of Parliament'.

Mr Campbell’s first wife, Marion, died in 1989, and he is survived by his second wife, Eileen, daughters Pat and Hilda, son Sylvie, nine grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren.

His funeral took place at Kintore Parish Church on Monday, September 30.