Shetland Livestock Marketing Group chairman Ronnie Eunson is to step down from the role after nine years at the organisation’s helm – and is inviting young farmers to consider taking a role in the group.
Mr Eunson, of Uradale, East Voe, plans to relinquish his duties as the co-operative’s head figure at the group’s annual general meeting in the coming weeks.
He hopes to continue as a group member. But the 58-year-old believes his decision will give younger people in agriculture the chance to consider being a part of the organisation, and “defining their own futures”.
“My intention is that at the AGM, which will be in the next month or so, I will stand down from being the chairman of the co-operative.
“I’ve been there for nine years now and I think it’s a good time for fresher and younger voices to be heard in running what are the vital services for agriculture in Shetland.
“As a wiser man than me once said it’s better to go when people are asking ‘why’ he’s going, than when they are asking ‘when’ he’s going.
“I hope by announcing this ahead of the AGM we will see an interest from the younger agricultural community to engage with running the co-operative.”
Industry leaders have commented in recent months on the growing number of young people coming into agriculture. Mr Eunson believes the interest shown by younger folk in Shetland’s monitor farm at Bigton – itself run by young people – might help motivate people even further.
“The age profile of crofters is shockingly old, but at this moment in time there are some young folk there, and I want to invite their interest. I want to see if they want to take a role in helping define their own futures.”
Mr Eunson believes SLMG still has a strong future ahead of it, despite the challenges that lie ahead, mainly associated with Brexit.
“I would like to think there was still considerable potential for growing the abattoir business,” he said.
Key to that growth was an engagement with the Scottish Agricultural Organisation Society, with a view to reviewing where SLMG staood, and what its strengths and weaknesses were.
Part of what the review would do was analyse ways of securing further assistance to the co-operative from “external agencies” to help expand the range of businesses the co-operative currently did, Mr Eunson said.
He hoped guidelines from the review would be available for the general meeting which would provide some guidance.
Mr Eunson’s tenure as chairman of the group had seen the development of the all-species abattoir, which he said had helped maintain the group’s sustainability.
He said: “At the moment we’ve got a very good board of directors from different backgrounds. I believe you need to maintain a mixed profile of people willing to contribute in a voluntary fashion to run something that’s as central to the industry as the mart and abattoir.”
Mr Eunson, an outspoken critic of the decision to leave the EU, acknowledged challenges which lie in the future, and said the co-operative would have to show willingness to change in order to adapt to the circumstances.
“Clearly the markets for livestock have various issues surrounding support measures and export markets,” he said.
“At the moment it [SLMG] is principally a service provider, whereas when it was first envisaged, SLMG was seen in terms of a marketing group. But by necessity the business model we’ve followed has had to be simplified simply by lack of resources to one where we offer other people the opportunities to engage in marketing their stock.
“SLMG offers as good a service as it can in terms of sales and processing, but unfortunately as far as the marketing side is concerned it’s proved to be very difficult. We’ve tried many avenues, and continue to try, but it’s not been a very productive direction to go in.”
In past weeks Mr Eunson had warned about a failure to put a mark on Shetland produce and develop its local identity. He said he would “dearly love” to see that followed up. And he said Shetland could learn much from its Orcadian cousins down the road.
He added: “It requires the Shetland economy to take a much more cohesive approach to marketing Shetland goods in the future, in possibly a similar fashion to what Orkney does at the moment.
“It’s sad to see that that has never been imperative for the agencies or businesses that currently exist. I think it’s resulted in Shetland having a poorer profile than it should have.”