Obituary: Mike Gibson CBE FRAgS, Cattle farmer

Michael Gibson, energetic cattle farmer who made a big impact on the industry in Scotland. Picture: Contributed
Michael Gibson, energetic cattle farmer who made a big impact on the industry in Scotland. Picture: Contributed
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Born 6 June, 1952, in Glasgow. Died 20 July, 2015, in Forres, aged 63

Mike Gibson, who died last week, brought energy and enthusiasm to his chosen profession and in later years these same qualities saw him successfully undertake a whole range of public work.

Few would have guessed the boy, born in Glasgow and educated at Gordonstoun, would at various times lead the Highland Cattle Society, the Scottish Landowners Federation and one of the main scientific research institutes in Scotland.

Neither would they have guessed where his final career would take him when they observed the school leaver head to UCL in London to study chemistry, then Aberdeen, followed by a subsequent move to Edinburgh as an articled clerk.

It was during the final year of his subsequent accountancy studies that he bought the small – 100 acre – hill farm of Edinvale, near Forres. This needed his immediate attention and so, while he had done the hard grind towards his accountancy exams, he did not complete the course. While those early moves were aborted, they did inculcate disciplines and knowledge which served him well. He was remorseless in tackling financial details.

His parents had owned a couple of Highland cattle to keep the grass down to a reasonable level at their home in Findhorn. The cows were rustled one night and thereafter formed the nucleus on the pedigree Highland fold at Edinvale. In those days, the iconic native breed was in the doldrums but Mike and a few other breed enthusiasts improved their cattle and promoted the high quality of the beef produced. He was a proud exhibitor as his cattle took a number of major championships and moreso when buyers from other parts of the UK and abroad came to Edinvale to purchase his stock.

But perhaps his biggest coup from the Highland cattle enterprise was winning the hand of Susan Bowser. Mike claimed the marriage would never have happened if he had not kept Highland cattle. The desire to see his beef make the best price in the market, along with a desire to find out the views of consumers, led to the purchase of Macbeths, a traditional High Street butcher’s shop in Forres. Soon Susan and he were not only serving local folk but also hotels and restaurants with the traditional native breed beef.

In the 1980s, he took over the tenancy of 800-acre Longcrook farm at Rothes, which allowed him to expand his beef enterprise and he also began working with another two native breeds; Shorthorns and Aberdeen Angus.

Farming politics beckoned and soon he was on the upward ladder of the Scottish Landowners Federation.

He was always privately amused that his land ownership amounted to a mere 100 acres while his tenanted farming enterprise covered eight times that area. He was appointed onto the inaugural Food Standards Authority in Scotland in 2000 when the food industry was still in shock over the BSE crisis. This was followed by a stint with the Meat Hygiene Advisory Committee. As a result of his contribution to these bodies, he was awarded a CBE for services to the food industry in 2006.

By now Mike was gaining a wider reputation as a strategic thinker, especially where organisations were either being established or needing to restructure. This brought him, among other diverse appointments, the chairmanship of the Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation, a similar position with the Scottish Association of Marine Science and membership of the newly established Court of the University of the Highlands and Islands

Throughout his life, Mike enjoyed outdoor pursuits, including shooting and skiing. His self-deprecating claim while he was on skis was that it was the fastest method of getting from bar to bar, but with his skills honed at school, he had also been a ski instructor at Aviemore.

Mike’s life was diminished last year with the death of Susan. He leaves behind his daughter Bridget, son Jock and his wife, Fiona and two grandchildren.