SAOS conference examines the future of co-operation in Scottish agriculture

The event explored the role of collaboration at a time when the sector is facing uncertainty

Over 120 farmers and agriculture practitioners met in Dunblane on 25 January for the annual conference of the Scottish Agricultural Organisation Society (SAOS). As well as discussing the role of co-operation in agriculture, they looked at the future of the sector in Scotland.

Keynote speaker Profession Daniel Côté from the University of Montreal talked about the opportunities brought by collaboration and being part of an association of farmers. He highlighted the importance of measuring and reporting the benefits of co-operation and understanding the full value of co-operation and members’ needs. He suggested linking member satisfaction to value creation by using a balanced scorecard system.

Another keynote speaker, Professor Jan Godsell examined supply chains in agriculture. She argued that customers were not willing to pay the true price for food and retailers primarily competed via cost, rather than differentiation. Another issue for farmers is having to produce, even when making a loss – which undermines the cost of food. She called on the agri food sector to develop a planning capability across supply chains and find new ways to connect with customers.

Also speaking at the conference was Rural Economy Cabinet Secretary, Fergus Ewing, who talked about co-ops in Scotland and the role of collaboration at a time when the sector is facing uncertainty over the future. He also announced the Ringlink Employability Programme, which encourages young people to enter the agricultural sector, would benefit from £39,000 finding.

Mr Ewing said the pre-apprenticeship scheme had been a success, with over 80% of participants choosing to stay in the farming industry afterwards. He also talked about the challenges posed by Brexit to the agricultural sector, which is highly dependant on EU workforce. Over 95% of veterinarians come from the EU, he said.

The conference featured a gala dinner, where the 2018 Ed Rainy Brown Memorial Award was presented to Douglas Watson. Joining the SAOS as project manager in 2000, he set up the Scottish Association of Farmers’ Markets, later succeeded by the Farmers’ Markets Partnership, which supported the development of 75 farmers’ markets, with £18m of sales. Mr Watson also developed the foundation governance course for co-op farmer directors.

Commenting on the award, George Lawrie, SAOS chair, said: “Douglas’ contribution to SAOS and our farm co-ops has been immense. Douglas has an innate business acumen that assists many of our co-ops, none less so than as Company Secretary to Scottish Shellfish, one of our most successful co-ops.

“He is ever the enthusiast and innovator and constantly seeks possible improvements and new initiatives, such as the rural skills internship and encouraging our early adoption of an enhanced website presence and use of social media.”

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