An ”instrumental” figure within Scottish agriculture has been crowned the winner of this year’s Royal Northern Agricultural Society (RNAS) public award.
The award, which is sponsored by the Press & Journal, recognises a public figure or personality for their services to agriculture.
Aberdeenshire farmer and agricultural economist Peter Cook, who is director of Food, Drink and Agriculture at Opportunity North East (ONE), is this year’s award winner.
Peter was brought up on the family farm at Mosshead, Kemnay, and went on to dedicate almost 40 years of his expertise and knowledge to the industry in a range of consultancy, advisory and development roles.
Throughout that time, he has also farmed with his wife Lynne at Roquharold, running 450 breeding ewes and a range of crops, principally malting barely.
He studied a degree in agriculture at Aberdeen University and went on to work as an agricultural economist at the North of Scotland College of Agriculture which became SAC, and then progressed into becoming head of SAC’s Rural Business Unit at Thainstone.
“I’ve spent much of my career translating complex issues into key points that farmers and other businesses can act upon,” said Peter.
“I hosted hundreds of meetings across all of Scotland and elsewhere, particularly at the times when farming policy changed radically such as the introduction of area and headage payments, or when there was tremendous pressure on the industry.
“In the process, I think I’ve been on every farmed island in Scotland, got storm bound on Barra and even missed the Unst ferry. As a result, I seem to have spent much of my time farming at home either in the dark or at very busy weekends.”
Agricultural policy has been a large area of Peter’s work, and as well as working for government and local authorities.
Peter has travelled the globe, especially most East European countries assisting their Governments and farmers to prepare for joining the EU and setting up advisory services.
‘Most of my time farming has been either in the dark at at very busy weekends’ says Peter Cook
This has included working for the World Bank, the EU Commission and UK Overseas Development.
He has been a special advisor to Westminster and Holyrood committee inquiries into hill farming support, the future of Scottish agriculture and rural development policy, including taking groups of MPs to visit farming practices in New Zealand.
Peter then established his own independent consultancy business ‘2 Mennie Cooks Ltd’ with a wide range of clients from Governments to individual farmers.
In 2010, Peter kicked off the Monitor Farm programme in the north-east in conjunction with SAOS, creating the farmer led groups to provide practical examples of best practice and innovation.
He said: “It is a real privilege to have worked with groups of farmers seeking practical solutions, and to have helped so many individual farming families, and to be trusted with the details of the business, particularly when it comes to tough issues such as succession.”
It has been noted that when Peter is either speaking or chairing at an agricultural meeting, the seats are always filled.
His efforts are now focused on ONE – an organisation funded by the Wood Foundation, which has been set up to grow the economy in the north-east beyond the oil and gas sector.
‘Privileged to work with farmers on tough issues such as succession’
Peter and his team support NE food and drink businesses to grow through a range of growth, market development, technology and skills programmes.
The headline project is ONE SeedPod – a £27 million investment in the food and drink industry to create an innovation hub for manufacturing and production in the north-east, currently under construction on the SAC Craibstone site.
Peter said: “I am honoured and equally delighted to be the recipient of this award. I have only ever achieved things through working with teams of tremendous people, and I really dedicate this award to them.”