Obituary – Hugh Neilson

Obituary – Hugh Neilson


The death has occurred of Mr Hugh R Neilson who was secretary of the Aberdeen-Angus Cattle Society, then based at 17 Bon-Accord Square, Aberdeen, from 1954 until 1963. He was 86.

Mr Neilson was secretary of the Society during a period of rapid expansion for the breed fuelled by a strong export trade for bulls to the USA and Argentina which saw record registrations of Aberdeen-Angus calves in the Herd Book, a record entry of more than 1000 bulls at the breed’s main show and sale at Perth in 1960 and culminating in a top price of 60,000gns (£63,000) – still an auction record for the breed in the UK – at Perth in 1963.

While these achievements hit the headlines, Mr Neilson was among the first to recognise that the type of cattle bred with the export market in mind were not suitable for the home commercial market which was the breed’s bred-and-butter. Commercial breeders were looking for a larger, faster-growing animal which led to the import of the Continental breeds which now dominate the British beef industry.

A man ahead of his time, Mr Neilson was instrumental – in the face of opposition from the “old guard” of pedigree breeders – in the application of science to the art of cattle breeding, being instrumental in the launch of a pioneering, industry-leading bull performance testing programme in conjunction with the then North of Scotland College of Agriculture which confirmed the high heritability of growth rate and feed conversion efficiency in Aberdeen-Angus bulls.

This led to the launch of a pilot on-farm beef recording scheme, which was the first in the country, and the creation of a bull performance testing station at the MacRobert Experimental Farm at Craibstone, with funding from the MacRobert Trust.

Mr Neilson devised a blueprint for a national beef recording scheme which led to the creation of the Beef Recording Association, later absorbed by the Meat and Livestock Commission when that organisation was formed in 1968. Today, beef bulls of all breeds are sold with performance records to indicate the likely performance of their progeny.

In 1963, Mr Neilson was appointed general manager of a new farmers’ co-operative, Select Livestock Marketing (SLM), based in Shrewsbury, with ambitious plans to develop a national livestock marketing scheme. This proved unsuccessful and the business folded in 1965 amongst considerable acrimony.

Mr Neilson then joined the civil service at principal grade with the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF) where he remained until his retirement, regularly travelling to Brussels to represent the UK in EU negotiations. He was for a time seconded to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in Paris. On his retirement, he became secretary of the House of Commons Select Committee for agriculture where his experience with MAFF proved invaluable.

He retired to Crieff where he was an elder of Crieff Parish Church, having previously been an elder and session clerk at St Columbus in London.

He is survived by his wife, Irene, son, Ewan, who is a partner and oil and gas specialist with Aberdeen solicitors, Stronachs, and daughter, Angela, who is married to a High Court judge. He also had six grandchildren to whom he was devoted.

Mr Neilson’s private funeral took place on Friday but a thanksgiving service in his memory will be held at Crieff Parish Church at 2.00pm on Saturday, May 7.