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Passion proves a winner for Aberdeenshire farmer

David Smith.
David Smith.

A north-east farmer with a passion for renewable energy and helping the next generation get into the industry is the winner of this year’s Royal Northern Agricultural Society (RNAS) local award.

The award, which is sponsored by Aberdeen and Northern Marts, is presented to an individual in recognition of their services to local communities and specialist farming organisations or groups.

This year’s recipient – David Smith of Cloffrickford Farm, near Auchnagatt – has been an active member of his local community and the wider farming industry for almost 60 years.

Born and brought up on a farm at Auchenblae, in the Mearns, he moved further north in 1962 when he took on 70 acres at North Denmore, Auchnagatt.

“At the time you couldn’t buy farms down in the Mearns but there were opportunities in the north-east,” said Mr Smith.

“We are now up to 800 acres at Cloffrickford and Skelmonae.”

The farming enterprise comprises a commercial herd of 140 beef suckler cows, mainly Simmental and Aberdeen Angus crosses, with all progeny finished on the farm and destined for Scotbeef Inverurie.

Cereals are also a major part of the business, with 300 acres of malting barley grown alongside oilseed rape, wheat and winter barley for feeding the cattle.

A real focus of Mr Smith’s attention for the past 22 years has been renewable energy and together with his wife Val, and family, he owns seven wind turbines with a combined output of 10MW.

The first turbines were erected in 2009 and Mr Smith now also jointly owns a 500kW turbine near Ellon with community organisation the Formartine Partnership.

“We also make voluntary contributions to Methlick, New Deer and Auchnagat communities,” said Mr Smith.

An extensive path network totalling around four kilometres, for use by walkers, cyclists and horse riders, has been erected around the seven wind turbines.

And having been impressed with the performance of his turbines, Mr Smith is now looking at ways to store energy produced by them in the form of hydrogen and battery storage.

He has submitted a proposal to supply buses in Aberdeen with hydrogen fuel, and his Land Rover has a fuel cell enabling it to be run on a mix of hydrogen and diesel.

In fact, Mr Smith has a vision for a countryside economy where farmers are producing and selling hydrogen fuel, while also reducing their carbon footprint.

“If lots of farmers were producing hydrogen then local farmers could go along with their trucks and fill them up. It’s an easy thing to adopt in the countryside,” said Mr Smith.

“They [the farmers] could use hydrogen as opposed to AdBlue. And if they could do this, and do this properly, we could reduce the need to get rid of diesel engines.”

Likewise, Mr Smith believes hydrogen fuel cells could be used to power trains in areas where it is not cost effective to electrify the lines, in a bid to replace diesel engines.

Away from his work developing hydrogen technology, Mr Smith is an active member of NFU Scotland (NFUS) and has served as chairman of the union’s New Deer branch on three different occasions. He also regularly promotes on-farm renewables, on behalf of the union, to politicians and fellow farmers.

Mr Smith’s also has a passion for helping people get a foot on the farming ladder, and he currently employs two youngsters on the farm – his 22-year-old grandson Cameron Cowie and Lewis Duncan, who has worked with him since taking part in machinery ring Ringlink’s internship programme five years ago.

“I have always employed young folk. Since I started farming, I have had neighbours’ sons and daughters coming along to see if they could get a job on the farm. It’s good for me and it’s good for them,” said Mr Smith.

“It’s essential that we keep bringing on young people as farm workers. You have to treat them as part of the business, give them an interest in the farm and encourage them to be part of the decision-making.

“At an early stage I try to teach them how to do combining. I don’t think one person should be doing everything.

“They [young workers] have to have an opportunity to do better and more responsible jobs.”

On future plans, Mr Smith says he wants to progress his hydrogen plans and improve the farm business.

He openly admits he has no successor in place, but says he is keen to either enter into a share farming agreement or rent the farm out to a new entrant when he decides to take a step back.

In all the citations for the award, Mr Smith is praised for his commitment to developing renewables, helping the community and encouraging youngsters into the farming industry.

One citation credits Mr Smith’s enthusiasm and ability to recruit and enthuse new members to the strength of the NFUS New Deer branch.

Another, describes Mr Smith as a “true innovator” when it comes to farm renewables and says: “He has been a pioneer in renewable energy, which will benefit others for generations to come.”

Another citation describes him as “a stalwart and a real ambassador for our industry”.

It continues: “His entrepreneurial spirit and never-say-die attitude holds him in good stead for all the challenges associated with farming nowadays.

“He is always keen to encourage young people into farming, and spends much of his own time teaching, mentoring and supporting young people.

“He is also a real community man, and is often the go-to person when roads are blocked in snow. He frequently heads out at 5am on winter mornings to clear side roads so that families can travel to school and work.”

Mr Smith will receive his award at a special celebration lunch on November 2 at the Jury’s Inn at Aberdeen Airport.