IF someone asked you what a livestock procurement officer did, not everyone – even in the agricultural world – would necessarily know.

It’s an integral part of the industry, though, and one person who is passionate about their role, is Vicky Warcup.

Working for Farm Stock (Scotland), Vicky is heavily involved in the industry and works tirelessly to do the best for her customers.

Brought up on her family’s farm near Duns, Vicky was keen on agriculture and specifically livestock from a young age.

After a stint at the SAC, in Edinburgh, her career has gone from strength to strength.

Vicky, who got married to her husband, David, last summer, now lives at Ford and Etal, an estate just south of the Border.

She took time out of her hectic work and personal lives to give The Scottish Farmer in insight into what she does.

How did you get your job?

I actually started to train as an accountant, but quickly realised that a job that meant being in an office fulltime just wasn’t for me. This led to me going to what was then the SAC, in Edinburgh.

Just before I was set to finish my agricultural course, I started looking at jobs on the college website and that’s when I noticed an advert for a job at Farm Stock Scotland.

It ended up being the only job I applied for. I started with them a week after finishing college in 2012 and I haven’t looked back. I love it.

I certainly wasn’t the most qualified applicant at the time, but I think my practical experience and interests counted for a lot. I’m now a senior livestock procurement officer. I’m based in Selkirk but deal with the area from Edinburgh down to Morpeth, so I do plenty of miles.

What is your home life like?

David’s a farmer – mainly arable – so, as with all farming families, a lot of our life is built around that.

I also love my horses. I was a member to the Berwickshire Hunt Pony Club when I was younger and I enjoy eventing, and competing with my horses.

We also enjoy our social life, but there’s nothing like living on a farm as far as I’m concerned. It’s a way of life that I think is second to none.

I’m the youngest of three sisters, but my siblings aren’t involved in the farm. I loved being brought up on farm and I’m still involved in it now. It’s a great way to be brought up.

What is the background to Farm Stock?

Farm Stock (Scotland) came about in 1996, when Scott Country Lamb joined together with Buccleuch Farmers.

Lothian Lamb and Beef joined in 1999, Ayrshire Country Lamb and Galloway Lamb in 2005 and Caledonian Organics in 2009. And, the company as it is just now was completed in 2017, with the addition of Border Counties Primestock and The Milk Suppliers Association.

Today, the company structure consists of seven of the original eight members, following the dissolution of Buccleuch Farmers and its amalgamation into Galloway Lamb and Scott Country Lamb.

Each of the seven-member groups owns one share in Farm Stock and each group is in turn owned by anything between 100 and 250 individual farmers.

The five groups still keep hold of their own local identity, but take advantage of the economies of scale resulting from the co-operation of more than 1000 farmers in terms of marketing prime stock on a deadweight basis. Store and breeding stock are also traded as an additional service to producers.

Since it began trading in 1996, Farm Stock has handled 2m lambs and around 80,000 cattle – which is a huge volume of livestock.

Does Farm Stock have a lot of staff?

The business is run by a small team of full-time staff, supported throughout the country by a group of experienced fieldsman.

When I started, there were three full-time staff at the company, there are now eight, so the business is constantly growing and evolving.

I’m now managing two members of staff, which is a bit of a new experience, but I’m enjoying it. I like to think I’m helping them rather than bossing them about!

You started as trainee, would you recommend that?

Definitely. Being a trainee is a great way of starting out in a co-operative.

We’re working for farmers, trying to get them the best deal, so you need to develop that co-op mentality and starting fresh. Developing that ethos while you’re young is great.

What does a typical day at work mean for you?

To be honest, no two days are really the same.

Basically, I go out and select stock on-farm, then decide how best to market it. I grade animals and then pick what I think would be the most suitable abattoir for them to go to.

We select the stock to suit the outlet.

The core business is prime stock sold on a deadweight basis to a UK wide network of abattoirs and specialist niche markets but increasing numbers of store and breeding stock are also being traded.

Whilst the immediate objective of Farm Stock is to maximise returns to individual producers through economies of scale, negotiation power through volume and by matching stock with abattoir demand, the long term vision is to build a strong and substantial farmer owned business.

We want to be recognised as a major force in the marketplace providing farmers with increased producer power, secure and financially safe access to the market and better average net prices than other available routes.

Access to a wide range of outlets is a key part of Farm Stock’s strategy to maximise prices. This ensures all types of stock can be matched to outlet demand on the day they are marketed.

In terms of prime stock, we deal with all the major and many of the smaller UK abattoirs.

Part of my job is being responsible for the procurement of both prime sheep and cattle for onward sales to abattoirs, as well as the trading of store of breeding stock from farm to farm.

I handle 40,000 units of cattle and sheep per year – the business as a whole handles 180,000 units of sheep and 6000 units of cattle, so it’s by no means a small operation. We have a £21m turnover annually.

We’re the largest livestock marketing co-op in the whole of Scotland, so it’s a great thing to be involved in.

What other things are you involved in?

As well as the nitty gritty of the procurement side of things, I spend a lot of my time calling in on clients, which I really enjoy. I count a lot of the people I work with as friends, which is a lovely position to be in.

I’m also on an assistant managers forum with SAOS and that’s great. It means I can talk to people in similar situations to myself and get support and guidance from them. We bounce ideas off each other and share ideas, which is good for us all.

As a company, we need to continue to think what we can do for our members. We’ve changed how we give feedback to our farmers and how we can give them advice.

We want to encourage people and if we can advise people on different aspects of the stock side of their business, then that’s fantastic and something I relish being involved in.

Farm Stock Scotland has 930 farmer members and we also have non-members who we trade with, so that’s a lot of people – things are constantly on the go and evolving.

Have you ever faced any discrimination for being a woman?

When I first started, people did definitely wonder about the fact I’m a girl. Not necessarily in an adverse way, but just from the point of view it was a bit different.

I maybe had to prove myself I bit more, but I didn’t see that as a bad thing, I saw it as a challenge – and I like a challenge!

It meant I had the opportunity to show what I could do.

What’s great, though, is that the two new girls that started this summer have experienced none of that sort of thing. In the relatively short time that I’ve been there, it’s changed so that nobody bats an eyelid if you’re male or female.

There is a much larger female presence in the industry these days.

There are women in abattoirs, markets, in livestock hauliers – the list is endless and it’s brilliant to see.

I’ve grown up in a family where girls did anything boys did. There was never any debate about me driving tractors or working on the farm – and that’s how it should be.

What problems do you see in the industry theses days?

Like any business in the world of farming, we’ve got our struggles.

The Beast from the East had a big effect on us. There are 8% less sheep in the country because of it, which is a huge hit.

Dunbia and Dawn Meats also merged, which resulted in less competition in the industry, so that’s not good for anyone.

A lack of staff in abattoirs is also an issue. Abattoirs in Scotland have a huge killing capacity, but they’re not meeting it and that’s largely down to staffing difficulties.

This is definitely the most challenging year I’ve experienced since I started and the future is going to be interesting. Brexit is the word on everyone’s lips and we’ll just have to see where that takes us.

Farmers are definitely moving with the times. They are far more open these days to changing systems or breeds to try and better their businesses. These things still take time, however – nothing is a quick fix!

What are your plans for the future?

As far as the future is concerned, I really just want to keep things going as they have been doing. I want to concentrate on progressing in the business and just see where the future takes me.

I would love to help grow the business and to keep developing relationships with new buyers.

As well as that, I would really like to help people understand what we do.

Farm Stock exists to ensure that group members obtain the highest possible returns for all classes of stock and we do this in two ways – minimising marketing costs and maximising prices.

It’s a constantly evolving industry and it’s very interesting. I’m so lucky to be able to say I love what I do.