A PASSIONATE moderniser whose reforms are said changed the way the National Farmers Union operated for the better, has died at the age of 85.

Sir Simon Gourlay, who farmed at Knighton, originally as a beef farmer before turning his hand to dairying and later free-range egg production, was NFU president from 1986 to 1991.

The union and the farming press have rallied to pay tribute to the former army officer who was first elected to office as NFU vice president in 1982, then deputy president in 1984 and became NFU national president in 1986 serving to 1991.

During his three years as president he was knighted Sir Simon in 1989.

Current NFU president Minette Batters said: “I send my deepest condolences to Sir Simon’s wife, Lady Caroline, and his three sons, Justin, David and Alistair.

“During his term in office, Sir Simon had to deal with a number of serious issues and dealt with all of these calmly and effectively, but he’ll be remembered most as being a great reformist and moderniser. He came into office determined to leave the NFU in a better condition than he found it – a lasting legacy of his five-year presidency.

“Sir Simon was behind a major re-structuring of the organisation – replacing the old NFU county system with a new, streamlined regional set up. He was also instrumental in creating the NFU’s popular countryside membership category.

“Farmers and growers of England and Wales owe Sir Simon Gourlay a huge debt of gratitude for the unwavering commitment that he showed as one of their most effective leaders.”

Mr Batters described Sir Simon as “a passionate moderniser whose reforms changed the way the organisation operated for the better”.

In a piece on their website, The Farmers Weekly wrote: "Among the issues he was called to deal with during his time at the helm was the 1988 poultry industry crisis, sparked by comments by the then-junior health minister Edwina Currie about potential risks of salmonella associated with eating eggs. In 1993, Sir Simon condemned reforms to increase the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy budget to £29bn from £23bn the previous year as “terminal insanity with staggering costs and red tape”.