ROG WOOD, who passed away recently, was a special character in the agricultural industry in Scotland, combining the world of agriculture with that of journalism.

Well recognised across the farming sphere, Rog (short for Rognvald – he was proud of his Orkney connections) was once very active in agri-politics – having run for the vice-presidency of NFU Scotland and had been on the British Wool Marketing Board for 13 years – but was probably best known as an agricultural journalist.

NFUS’ director of communications, Bob Carruth, paid this tribute: “Rog’s reputation as a robust and knowledgeable debater saw him rise through the NFU Scotland ranks to chair our environmental committee in 2000, holding the chair for several years before being encouraged to stand as vice-president.

“Although unsuccessful in his bid to join the presidential team, Rog’s time on the board of directors is fondly remembered. Not only was he a skilled lobbyist on environmental issues, but a staunch supporter of the many campaigns and demonstrations undertaken by the union at that time.”

He was also a councillor for the local authority and became the chair of the planning committee – a demanding job for elected members in local government, which he carried out without fear or favour.

As a farming journalist, Rog wrote for many publications including, latterly, being the farming editor of The Herald, but had also been a regular contributor to the Sunday Post (under the pseudonym of Tom Duncan), The Scottish Farmer and Farmers Weekly.

Working for the ‘dailies’, his forte was producing sound copy from which even laymen could understand often complex farming stories. His anecdotes of farming were well read in this newspaper and beyond where he succinctly reported on the broader picture of farming throughout Scotland, the changing countryside and ways of rural life

In particular, he was at the heart of the area devastated by foot-and-mouth in 2001 and he took the tragedy of disease like this, and other animal health disasters, such as BSE, to a wider audience.

He was also the author of several successful books on country matters and local legends – his empathy with Burns was evident in his book of tales of the ghaists and ghouls around his native patch in Sanquhar.

Rog always described himself as a hill farmer at heart and he became the youngest ever tenant on the Duke of Buccleuch’s Queensberry Estate to have taken a farm on the open market at the age of 22. That was Auchentaggart, a hard hill near the village of Mennock, in Dumfries-shire.

In the beginning, Rog and his wife, Carmen, faced huge financial uncertainties getting their business off the ground and both invested a lot of energy and time on non-farming incomes, hence the journalism on Rog’s part and catering on Carmen’s.

In the same year they took on the farm, their first child, Elliot, was born, followed by daughters Natalina and Claudia.

However, when he was just 20, the family lost Elliot to suicide and this was to take an awful toll on Rog in the subsequent years, causing great frustration and resulted in him suffering from severe depression.

Bravely, though, Rog fought back and his prodigious output of news and feature stories was, perhaps, his way of easing that pain. He became a champion of raising awareness of mental health issues, especially in farming communities and just last year he shared his experience in an article published in The Scottish Farmer on his struggles of coming to terms with Elliot’s death.

“There is still, in the farming community, a stigma with suicide and there shouldn’t be. It is a mental illness that can be averted.

“As a community, we need to open up and talk about mental health. Only then will we recognise and act upon the early signs of suicide, only then can we lead to it being prevented,” he told The SF.

While Rog was a complex character, when in fine form he exhibited a rapier-like wit and was an original thinker, able to cut through the complexities of agricultural politics and his deep understanding of the industry – he was a Nuffield Scholar, specialising in the sheep industry – allowed him to give learned comment on many topics.

Away from the farm, he was well read and a regular on the Burns supper trail both as a speaker and for his excellent recitations. In fact, just a few days before Rog took ill, in January, he delivered a fine rendition of Tam o’ Shanter at the annual Scottish Guild of Agricultural Journalists supper.

He was also a keen fisherman and apres-angling his story-telling became something of a legend. His tales of sheepdog training, an appearance as a drag artiste, the vagaries of the lambing shed and, one of his favourites, how he became a boxing champion, were hilarious in the confines of country pubs all over Scotland.

No more will this irascible character ‘cast a blae and black to the far corner of the pool ‘

He will be sorely missed by a wide-ranging and large circle of friends and family.

KF