How did you get to where you are now?
I started with Scottish Agronomy in 1989 as employee number 4, working as a Trials Officer. We had something like 12 Trial sites and around 3,000 plots in those days. The number of sites has not actually increased by that much, but the scale and scope of the trials have increased massively to around 25,000 harvested cereal plots, 2,000 potato plots and a full-time equivalent staff of 11. In all that time my responsibility has mainly been in trials, but I have acted as an agronomist as required, sat on the board and had various other responsibilities within the business.
What are you most looking forward to about your new role as MD?
A new challenge is always welcome, though I suspect it will not equal the old adage of a change is as good as a rest!
The future is utterly unpredictable, but uncertainty will lead to opportunity. We need to ensure that as a co-operative, our members are best placed to profit in these uncertain times and that the co-operative remains well managed and practices good governance. This should lead to satisfied members and contented staff. It is always a pleasure to interact with our members and the great strength of Scottish Agronomy has been the two-way flow of information to and from the membership. I particularly look forward to having more interaction with members, as well as our staff who I can say with utter confidence are up there with the very best in the industry.
What is your favourite time of year, and why?
It’s always been spring for me, especially the first hints of warmth and growth after a long winter. You can feel the winter cobwebs disappearing and life beginning to kick in again. I do hope that in my new role that I will enjoy harvest a little more. It was way too stressful at times as Trials Manager, but incredibly satisfying when the job was being done right, progress made and the results good. I will miss it and you may still find me occasionally dangerously close to a combine on evenings or weekends during harvest. My wife has always said that I am like a bear with a sore head if it is a good weekend at harvest time and I am not busy cutting. I may refer to it as marriage counselling!
Tell us your backstory
I was born on a 200ac tenanted mixed farm just west of Perth. We specialised in soft fruit in the days of berry squads which was certainly an eye-opening upbringing. Upon leaving school I headed to Aberdeen to the old North of Scotland School of Agriculture to complete an HND, but that was in the days when you still had to do a year’s pre-entry practical experience away from home.
I was lucky enough to spend a fantastic year with the late Willie Robb & family at the Lamberkins near Perth & I’m fairly sure that I learned more in that year than in any other. In the September after Graduating I saw an ad in the paper for a Trials Officer at Scottish Agronomy and my elder sister persuaded me to apply.
I had always been fascinated by trials, spending hours with my father in the old ICI plots that used to be at the Highland Show and particularly enjoying visits to trial sites as a student. I was lucky enough to spend my formative years with Scottish Agronomy working directly with Huw Phillips and Andrew Gilchrist, which was the best education that I could have wished for. Steady progress through the trials followed, but the game changer was in 2005 when the board made the decision to start investing in modern kit for the trials. The return was not immediate, but from this point onward began the evolution of the trials to the absolute state-of-the-art that we are today. I have been lucky enough to work with many exceptional people over the years, either staff, members or within the trade and would certainly not be where I am now without their help and support.
What, for you, makes Scottish Agronomy stand apart?
It’s all about the people. From the board, who as a group truly encapsulate all that is good about Scottish Agriculture & bring huge benefit to the Co-operative with the wealth of experience they bring to the table; to the members who never cease to amaze me with their professionalism, adaptability & sheer grit to do the job right often in the most trying of circumstances and the staff who never fail to give their all for the good of the co-operative at large. The fact that people of such high quality are backed up by the Trials function is at the heart of everything that Scottish Agronomy does. Truly independent trials, free from the commercial influence of seed or chemical sales, allow us to adapt to the many challenges that our members face and ensure that members maintain their competitive advantage.
What has been the greatest highlight from your career to date? (Trials based please, rather than becoming MD!)
Now that is a tricky question! It could be buying a second-hand combine and thinking that the seller had missed out a significant number from the price, then getting the invoice and finding they had not. Or it could be finishing a block of 2,000 wheat plots at 5pm on a Sunday afternoon as the first spots of rain fell and didn’t stop for the next two days. But the real highlight has been seeing how the co-operative has grown and adapted and how staff have developed from the most junior position and through hard work and determination have gone on to take positions of major responsibility and importance. I think the fact that we can now offer new starters a career path suited to their interests and skills, aligned with the needs of the co-operative gives me as great satisfaction as anything in my career to date.
Tell us something that might surprise us about you
When I started with Scottish Agronomy, I had shoulder length hair and there is photographic evidence to prove it. Just don’t mention the word mullet!!
A perfect weekend would involve the family all being at home at the same time – a rare occurrence – good food, the occasional gin, good company with friends, a good book for the quieter times, possibly a dram and a long walk with my wife, kids and the dogs.