A sheriff has been unable to establish how a highly respected and popular Scottish farmer fell to his death in a grain storage tank on his farm.

Bruce Ferguson, 61, was found dead by his son Andrew at the family farm near Turriff, Aberdeenshire, in March 2015.

Mr Ferguson, the former president of the Turriff Show, fell into the grain silo by “unknown means” and died of asphyxiation, ruled Sheriff Philip Mann.

Bruce Ferguson pictured with the Queen at the Turriff Show.

Bruce Ferguson with the Queen at the Turriff Show.

See also: Top Scottish farmer killed in farm accident

In a written ruling, Sherriff Mann said Mr Ferguson had not been seen for some time after preparing a 30t order of barley.

“This was an automated process involving the grain being dried in a machine before being passed along a conveyor belt and being deposited into a series of ventilation bins,” said Sherriff Mann.

“Directly above the bins were roof rafters that would become covered in grain during the process and which would require to be swept for general tidiness and to prevent contamination.

“Mr Ferguson had not been seen for some time after setting off to attend to this process. A search was conducted by his son, Andrew Ferguson, and his lifeless body was discovered submerged in grain in one of the storage containers.

“It is not possible for anyone to say how Mr Ferguson came to be submerged in grain within the storage container. 

“All that can be said is that he fell into the container by unknown means and had been unable to free himself, resulting in his death by asphyxiation.”

Turriff Show president

Although Mr Ferguson had suffered a stroke in May 2014, a post-mortem examination of his body revealed no natural disease that might have contributed to his death.

Neither was there any intoxicating substance, except for a “minimal amount” of alcohol, that might have contributed to Mr Ferguson’s fall, said Sherriff Mann.

Mr Ferguson, who had been involved in the Turriff Show for more than 20 years, was a stalwart of north-east farming and a former adviser and lecturer at the North of Scotland College of Agriculture.

He was appointed secretary of the Turriff Show – the north-east’s premier agricultural event – in 1994. He was elected president in time to welcome the Queen to last August’s 150th anniversary event.

Death was ‘real blow’

Tributes poured in for Mr Ferguson following his tragic death. Former first minister Alex Salmond, said his death was a “real blow” not just for the Scottish farming community, but for the entire Turriff community.

NFU Scotland described Mr Ferguson as “first and foremost a dedicated family man, followed closely by Bruce, the charitable, community man”.

Mr Ferguson’s £3m estate was shared between his wife Kate, and his son Andrew, who still works on the farm, and daughter Elizabeth.