Show president aims to target emergent farmers

2009-11-18 00:00

THE new Royal Agricultural Society (RAS) president, Dr Iona Stewart, will focus on several key imperatives in the coming months, namely increasing awareness about the society among the public, growing membership numbers and creating a space for members to become more actively involved.

Stewart has been involved with the RAS for 35 years. She was recently elected the first woman president of the society.

She takes over from Garth Ellis.

Kay Makan and Mike Moncur are the two vice presidents.

Stewart told The Witness yesterday that the move did not really take her by surprise.

“It didn’t come suddenly. When I agreed to be vice president, it was on the understanding that I would be president if this was necessary.

“I am following in the footsteps of great presidents. I will not make sweeping changes … but I hope to introduce some innovations in time.”

Stewart, who lives in Merrivale, has a masters degree and doctorate in animal science and has studied here and in the United States.

Although she is an animal scientist, she describes herself as a farmer “at heart” and has been engaged in cattle farming for almost four decades.

She has occupied various roles at the RAS, including ring steward, chief steward, chairman of the cattle section, member of executive committee and vice president.

“I got involved in the society in 1973. I had 35 Friesland cattle and did not know how to select a good bull. So I worked with the show judges and thus learnt how to improve the genetics of my own dairy herd,” Stewart explained.

This is the sort of quality interaction that Stewart would like to foster between members and other stakeholders at the society.

She also hopes to attract a diverse array of stakeholders to the RAS.

“For instance, over the past few years, the sheep section has tried to get the emerging farmers involved. I am also hoping that there will be more men involved in the craft section.”

The general manager, Terry Strachan, told The Witness that the RAS is now a thriving organisation that contributes significantly to the midlands economy.

Besides hosting shows like the Royal Agricultural Show and the annual Garden Show, as well as many conferences, functions and events, the showgrounds could become the most popular conference venue in the province, Strachan believes, since it attracted about 185 000 visitors in 2008.

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