What lead you into your role as RSABI chief executive?

I come from a farming background, and live in the Borders, so I’d always had an interest in the agricultural industry. I spent most of my working life as a self-employed insurance agent with NFU Mutual and as a group secretary for NFU Scotland based in Newtown St Boswells.

I ended up building up my insurance business to be the largest agency in Scotland, and this was instrumental in giving me an in-depth knowledge of the rural community and rural business. It was like having the best of both worlds – I learned about people and how to have staff, but I also got a technical insight into the industry.

I got the job at RSABI in the October of 2013 – the first female chief executive since they started in 1897! I won’t lie and say I didn’t hesitate before applying, but I was lucky enough to get it, and taking that leap of faith (in myself), and throwing my hat into the ring for the job was the best move I ever made.

How does your home life effect your role?

I work from my home in the Borders quite a lot, as well as from the RSABI head office at Ingliston, on the outskirts of Edinburgh, and I must admit it is good not being in the office every day.

I’m out and about a lot by far the best part of my job is meeting people, and speaking to people face to face.

Luckily my partner is very supportive and understanding that my job is different from week to week. We have a niece and nephew that we spoil rotten in our spare time, and it’s definitely important to take a step back and enjoy family life, too.

I am the current chairperson of Border Ice Rink Ltd, which runs the curling and skating facility in Kelso. I’m really into my curling, and it is so encouraging to see so many youngsters excelling at the sport, they’re great ambassadors for the game.

Is this the kind of job you saw yourself in?

I’m not sure I really had a ‘career plan’. Working in the farming industry naturally seemed to become my plan, and I wouldn’t change it for the world. The industry and the people in it are amazing.

I’m very lucky that I get to experience such a variety of things through my work. The people I meet and the vast array of industry bodies that I encounter mean that I’m constantly learning and expanding my knowledge of the industry – which is great!

Things move at such a pace in this day and age that you could easily be left behind, but I’m constantly being kept on my toes. Every day is certainly a school day!

I’m also an external director of SAOS, a post I took up in 2014, and I did so partly because I fully believe that cooperation and collaboration in the food and farming industries is increasingly important given the many business pressures on farmers and growers.

What would you say are the main issues effecting the industry?

Brexit is obviously the word on everyone’s lips just now, but issues that are more on our immediate doorstep are often the most difficult to battle.

The weather for one, has seriously been taking its toll. Many people have hit a real low point after the constant wet weather, and heavy snow that we’ve been experiencing. It isn’t just the initial effect of these things, it’s the long-term problems that appear on the back of them.

I think it’s important to remember that RSABI provide people with practical, emotional, AND financial support. It’s definitely not all about money.

We help people in all sorts of ways, and the practical help we can provide is often the most invaluable. We find that people come to us for help with one specific issue, but behind the scenes there is a lot more to deal with, and it is being able to help with that that I view as being most important.

Things can easily get on top of you and having someone to help deal with that is so important. A lot of other agencies point people in our direction, and that is invaluable.

We have established our helpline and that’s been great. I definitely want RSABI to be seen as a service, rather than a charity. It’s not all about financial aid.

Do you think the role of women in the industry is fully recognised?

People need to recognise the value of woman in the industry, but woman also need to realise their own value, and have as much faith as possible in their own abilities. Woman shouldn’t play down the invaluable roles they have to play.

Every single part of the industry is equally important, and woman can play equally important roles. It makes better economic sense for woman to be involved, and it makes the industry more collaborative and inclusive,

I often feel like woman miss opportunities because they don’t have the confidence to put themselves forward. I hear of many women writing themselves off when it comes to running a farm, and that shouldn’t be the case.

It’s not about some sort of feminist movement, it’s about making sure we have the best person for a role, in that role – regardless of their gender.

What other problems to you deal with at RSABI?

I do see the issue of succession as being quite a problem in the world of farming. We hear from individuals who either feel like they are not getting the opportunities they feel they may have earned, or that they feel like they are being forced into farming, and nobody should ever be forced down a career path to try and please a family member.

Generational issues are a big thing, we often find people are worrying what their parents or grandparents think – or would have thought, we hear from people struggling with the pressures they put on themselves even after their processors have passed away.

This is a problem that many people don’t know how to deal with. We can offer help and advice on the matter, even if we just act as a third party, away from the family, that can be a useful ear to listen.

How do you see agriculture growing, moving forward?

As far as the future is concerned, there is so much going on that is exciting. Technology and innovation is moving forward as such an increased pace, and I really do believe we’re on the edge of something great.

The world is speeding up and there is absolutely no reason why agriculture can’t keep up.

Scottish farming is a great industry. The strength, depth and quality of what our farmers produce are second to none. I think we need to continue to work on strengthening supply chains, so that those involved reap the available benefits right along the line.

That’s another type of inequality I would like to see get sorted out – to see those on the ground to produce Scottish food and crops getting the rewards they deserve.

Is there anything in your career that you really didn’t expect to happen?

Lots! One of them came about just recently, since I’ve become involved with the BBC. I sent in my CV and a video application to apply to become an ‘expert’ that they can call upon if a topic comes up that the require commentary on.

Myself and Joyce Campbell got to the last 30/40 candidates out of 400 original applicants, and that in itself was a great honour. So many of the women there were amazing, but so many of them didn’t event consider themselves to be experts. Women are definitely too humble and self-deprecating at times.

However, I’m honoured to say that I’m now on the BBC’s list of people to call if the need arises. I’m scheduled to go in at the beginning of May to discuss Brexit for a new programme, so I’m looking forward to that.

Television and radio work probably wasn’t something I was expecting to be regularly involved in.

How do you see the future of RSABI?

Currently, we have 11 members of staff, and lots of amazing volunteers. We do, however, need a more regular income. We do spend a lot of money.

We need to find more ways of making it, so we can continue to progress, and do the work we have been doing. Things like our book, and the Great Glen Challenge obviously play a massive fundraising role, but we need to do more.

Providing face to face help for people is second to none, so being able to employ more people to help with this would be amazing.

We are encouraging people to join our ‘Friends of RSABI’ set up, where they will be find themselves with increased benefits available to them, for the price of a membership fee.

I’m the first RSABI chief executive that has made it policy to spend our cash reserves, but in this modern day, it needs to be done. We want to provide the full package – financial support and emotional and practical help, and doing this all costs.

Tell us something about yourself that people may not expect?

I’m turning 50 this year, and to celebrate my ‘big’ birthday, I’ve set myself a few challenges to accomplish. By far the most challenging would be my plan to climb to Everest Base Camp.

It’s a daunting prospect, but I’m really excited about it!

Do you have a final message?

If you have to think about something, just stop, and go for it. Life is too short and if you don’t take a chance, then you might miss out on a great opportunity. Be less scared of being a bit controversial – be confident!