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Anne Chamberlain is Farmers Club new chairman

Published on 19th February 2015

Anne ChamberlainAnne Chamberlain, a Member of the Guild, is the new chairman of The Farmers Club, official 'residence' of the Guild as its registered office and venue for the management Council's quarterly meetings.

Anne brings to the Club chairman's role a wealth of experience in magazine publishing, public relations and the wider communications industry.

Her first links with the media came early, when aged 16 she helped her father, William Weir, transport seven Ayrshire cows from the family's Wheatrig Farm near Kilmarnock in Ayrshire to the Royal Dairy Show in London, by train, in leather-padded horse boxes, with a stop at Crewe for milking, and a final walk through London streets to Olympia Hall – horns and all.

Wheatrig Bronwyn 23rd was Supreme Individual Champion, and the Daily Express was not slow to scoop the photo caption: "Anne skips school to feed the cows". Thus began a lifetime of involvement with the media, marketing and message management, which has spanned food, farming, aquaculture and many corners of the globe.

As one of farming's prime communications experts Anne has had a rich and varied career, involving a six year stint at Farmers Weekly, becoming Business Editor aged 24, and launching Fish Farmer and Farmland Market spin-off titles.

Farmers Weekly

"Having read Economics at Edinburgh, and after just seven weeks as a management trainee with Rowntrees in York, I had a call out of the blue from Alastair Strathearn, assistant editor and former Scottish correspondent at Farmers Weekly, seeking 'a numerate graduate' for the business section."

From Farmers Weekly, a period of looking after her young family was combined with freelance writing and editing before joining Mike Collins as marketing manager at innovative cereal breeding company New Farm Crops. She rose to become marketing director and was instrumental in NFC's sale to agchem giant Ciba-Geigy, now Syngenta.

With husband Denis and colleague Geoff Dodgson, the successful Chamberlain Partnership was formed, to look after issue management for clients including Sainsbury's, Gafta, Eblex and HGCA. It was with HGCA's export promotion arm, British Cereal Exports, that working internationally in countries as diverse as Spain, Sweden and China first caught Anne's imagination.

"I became increasingly interested in the international agricultural picture, and how the world could feed itself sustainably and responsibly," she says.

Aquaculture

For more than ten years Anne ran a campaign for Gafta to protect the reputation of fishmeal and fish oil in the face of BSE bans on their use in feed and campaigns to limit fishing. This led to an opportunity to become involved with IFFO – the international trade organisation for marine ingredients, with offices in London, Lima and Beijing.

"Aquaculture is one of the most promising ways of meeting the world's protein needs, with farmed seafood production exceeding the catch of wild fish for the first time this year according to the UN's FAO," says Anne.

Where agriculture led, aquaculture is now following and sometimes overtaking, with similar challenges in terms of least cost feed formulation, environmental impact, certification and linking the food chain from sea or field to fork.

Anne has had more public-facing roles too, including NHS and Consumer Association committee roles addressing primary care, and was a director of the family's Blackshaw Farm Park in Ayrshire which welcomed 500,000 visitors before the 2003 E-coli outbreak ended school visits to farms. The family holdings in Ayrshire are now farmed by Anne's brother John and her sister and brother-in-law, John and Margaret Hogarth.

Farmers Club focus

So what is Anne's vision for the Farmers Club?

"To enhance the fellowship and stimulating debate which the Club provides for all those farming and living in the countryside in the UK and abroad," she says. "It is very important our industry has the Club as a focus in London to help maintain its visibility and influence in Westminster. I'm pleased to see many significant organisations hold their meetings here.

"It is also essential that the Club stays just that - a Club - with an ambience where a member on her/his own can join the Club table in the dining room or strike up a conversation in the bar with a tenancy expert and a Tasmanian farmer. Perhaps we can develop some of these stimulating informal conversations into regular discussion sessions on key topics in the Club or on the website," she suggests. "There is a wealth of knowledge among our members.

"It is not many years ago that agriculture saw itself as beginning and ending at the farm gate and many bemoaned its shrinking influence and status - failing to notice how the neighbouring sectors of environment, diet and health and food security were burgeoning. I do not see farming as the squeezed middle between the environment and food - but as the core productive player on this wider playing field."

Within the Club one of the challenges is retaining the Club's traditions and ambiance, whilst also embracing more contemporary developments. To that end Anne is meeting with the Club's Under 30s chairmen from the past 15 years early in 2015 to find out how this 30 to 45 age group would like the Club to develop.

With a vibrant programme already planned for 2015, including visits to the Republic of Ireland and Nottinghamshire, and on-going refurbishment within the Club itself, Anne is clearly set to preside over another interesting and progressive year for the whole Club.

Charles Abel

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