Meet Jim Warnock, our new RHASS Chairman
Overseeing the entire workings of the Society means the role of Chairman is a significant one. For the next two years, Jim Warnock will fulfil that role, helping to promote and protect the interests of rural Scotland and all those who live and work within it.
Farming at Gartfinnan in Clackmannan, as well as being MD of JWDAgri Ltd, Jim has been involved with Scottish agriculture his entire life.
Here, we had a chat with Jim to find out more about him, how RHASS is supporting rural Scotland in the face of challenges, and what he wished more people knew about the Society...
Tell us about yourself - have you always been involved in farming?
I have been immersed in agriculture all my life, from working on the family farm to running my own farm and agricultural supply business.
I am the second son of six children and life began, and still continues, on Gartfinnan, which was then a dairy farm. My formative years were spent following my parents around and as soon as I could, I helped feed and bed dairy calves.
Having three brothers, there were always playmates around and cattle cake was always useful for ammunition! Byre passages were race tracks to play on with my siblings and every field had an adventure to be found as we grew up.
As children, we were extremely lucky to have a mother whose kitchen table groaned with prize-winning baking. As soon as I could I was driving tractors, and I attended college alongside working for my father. By this time, we had moved away from dairy, and breeding bulls was dad’s forte - attending sales and shows of Hereford Bulls across the UK was fitted in around crop production.
What has your career journey been like so far?
I have farmed and been an agronomist for 40 years now, looking after our customer’s crops and supplying inputs as well as marketing their produce.
This has been a really enjoyable part of my life - working outside, being involved with food production, and engaging with great hard-working people who teach me something new every day.
Gray and Harrower Ltd employed me at the age of 26 years to train as a grain merchant and agronomist. This fitted in well with farm work and, looking back, was my first taste of diversification.
How is RHASS supporting farmers in the face of the challenges of today?
For RHASS as an organisation, our first priority post-Covid was to stay together as a group and deliver our first full Royal Highland Show since 2019.
After our very successful Showcase event in 2021, it was great to have the farming and rural communities back together. Alongside our flagship educational organisation, the Royal Highland Education Trust, we look forward to many more events to help promote Scottish food production, showcase the work of those in rural Scotland and share the story of where our food comes from.
RHASS is an organisation that is continually growing and changing to meet the needs of rural Scotland. Our board of Directors, alongside our CEO and the exceptional RHASS team, have shown that we can change and continue to improve, even with the recent global issues we have been challenged by.
Out of challenge comes innovation, excellence and achievement, and this is what RHASS continues to offer through all our available awards and grants. The range of educational and developmental opportunities on offer is wide and varied, so please encourage your staff, family and friends to see what’s available - you never know where the journey will take you.
What kind of issues are facing RHASS members and the wider agri sector?
Every one of our members has priorities in their lives, and these priorities can vary from day to day.
Some of the major priorities I have and witness others facing daily are farm safety, farm succession and rural connectivity. These are important factors for everyone, and by keeping them on my agenda as Chairman, I will be keen to facilitate any opportunities that arises to raise awareness and share knowledge with the RHASS membership.
Why is it important we connect people, especially children, with where their food comes from?
Our flagship educational charity, RHET, has a key part to play in educating our children, not only on where our food comes from but how it is produced.
We had over 6,000 children visit the RHET Discovery Centre at the 2022 Royal Highland Show. Throughout the year, the work of educating children about food production continues, through farm visits and classroom talks. I am an active member of RHET Forth Valley and it is really rewarding to see the faces of the children when they see animals close up on the farm, and hear their questions during classroom talks.
What is one thing you wish more people knew about RHASS?
How big the organisation is and the how hard our Directors work for the Society, as unpaid volunteers.
The RHASS team are focused on maximising the Society’s assets to ensure we have the funds in place to carry out RHASS’ charitable activities. We are a membership organisation with remit to promote and protect the interests of rural Scotland, agriculture and associated industries.
Going forward for the next two hundred years, we need to remain relevant and sustainable to deliver on our remits. RHASS has so many strings to its bow beyond the Royal Highland Show and we are always looking for new ways in which we can achieve the greatest outcomes for the advancement of the sector.
Guiding the direction of the charity and determining the policy of the society are the board of Directors, who are voted in by our members from across Scotland. These are the hardest working volunteers you could meet - the Directors bring their lifetime experience to the society for free, whether it is practical farming skills or agri-business knowledge, to ensure RHASS meets its aims.
What does a day in the life of a director look like? Perhaps one of our Directors’ partners could best do a blog on this! On average I would say I have four calls a day from members regarding the society, plus many Zooms calls and meetings. An update on amount of calls over the next two years will follow!
Meetings and the promotion of RHASS is part of life for a RHASS director, and even in your down time and holidays many passionate directors find themselves in conversation promoting RHASS. Here is a question, how far away from home have you met someone and discussed RHASS with them?
Without the dedication, knowledge and skills of our board members, all given on top of their usual working days, the RHASS team would not have this vital input from across Scotland’s rural communities and the challenges they are facing.
It is with thanks to my previous employer, WNL Ltd, who granted permission to allow me to attend RHASS board meetings. Many Directors have been, or are still involved in their local agricultural societies, too. This work with their local shows is also done in a volunteer capacity and is highly commendable - this is the grass roots sharing of agricultural life which plays an important role for exhibitors and agricultural communities.
What are some of your most treasured Highland Show memories?
I have so many good memories from when I was a youngster visiting and competing at the Show. I once was pictured with my brother on front of Scottish Farmer attending the show, that was fame at the time!
I have probably said this too many times, but winning the Herald Trophy is one of the best team wins for young farmers, and I like to know who wins each year.
I have also made lifelong friends, and have more recent memories of looking after the main ring with 15,000 people watching – making sure everything is on time, safely delivered and going to plan.
On a more personal note, it was a pleasure to take my late mother to the Show and now it is fantastic to see my own children planning their own family Show outings. The grandchildren even play at “going to the Highland Show” so we must be doing something right!
What's the best piece of advice you've ever received?
Be open to any advice and be happy to take criticism from those you would ask for advice.
Good advice from my employer was “If you’re late make sure your shoes are polished”. From an agri-business colleague - “short version only Jim”.
And from my father - “Shoulders back, head up and be polite.” You can’t go wrong with any of those pieces of advice.
Many thanks to Jim for taking the time to speak with us.