SAOS calls on Scottish government to support co-operation in agriculture

‘With modern-day farmers facing more challenges than ever before, co-ops offer solutions on many levels’

Scotland’s agri co-operative umbrella body, SAOS, has called for the addition of policy to support and encourage greater co-operation to increase farmers’ power in the supply chain as part of the new Scottish Agriculture Bill.

Speaking ahead of SAOS’s AgriScot seminar Back to the Future – why co-ops are right for right now, CEO Tim Bailey said: “Our session today highlights the strength and breadth of Scotland’s agri co-ops which, with a combined turnover of around £1bn, we know are the quiet engine room of Scottish agriculture. We’ll hear today about what some co-ops are already achieving for members, but there is so much untapped potential there for tackling many of our key farming challenges.

“The new Scottish Agriculture Bill has been laid before parliament and we agree with the policy outcomes to support rural communities, food production, and practices that protect and restore the natural environment, and tackle climate change. But we are calling for an additional policy outcome focused on improving the position of farmers in the food chain and we firmly believe that co-operation is key to that, as well as creating resilience in the Scottish agricultural sector, and enhancing sustainable, long-term, food security.

“Farmers are being asked to produce more food more efficiently, cutting emissions and mitigating against weather events – just for starters. Most co-ops were initially founded to overcome challenges, and with modern-day farmers facing more challenges than ever before, co-ops offer solutions on many levels. Today’s four farmer speakers are, between them, members of seven of the 63 active farmer co-ops spread all over Scotland, and we’ll hear why co-op membership makes sense to them and their businesses.

“Co-operation strengthens the farmer’s position which is particularly key for safeguarding small family farms. Sharing ownership and common goals creates greater engagement, and these rural co-ops also create jobs and help protect their local communities. These are just a few of the many reasons that make great business sense to farmers and, although it’s rarely mentioned, another is that working together for mutual benefit is a lot more appealing than going it alone, particularly when tackling challenges.”

David Michie, SAOS’s co-op development manager, added: “We believe that policy to encourage co-operation and pooled resources would help strengthen the position of farmers in the value chain. With all the noise around ‘direct payments versus environmental payments, the importance of having fairer market returns has been neglected. As well as addressing both farming income and environmental challenges, adding the policy outcome of ‘Improving the position of farmers in the food chain’ would also enable Scottish government to keep pace with the EU – which they have stated as a government priority.”

He added: “In real terms, the financial value of policy support has reduced significantly within this SRDP. Supporting Scottish farmers to receive more value from the supply chain is crucial for business resilience against this backdrop of funding decline. What’s vitally needed is a commitment for multi-annual payments that go alongside the five-year Rural Support Plan, and for the government to set out clearly how funding will be used to meet its objectives. This would provide certainty for farm businesses and encourage strategic innovation and investment.”

SAOS will respond to the Agriculture and Rural Communities (Bill) Scotland consultation, making these points and will be encouraging its co-op members and their memberships to do the same.

SAOS’s AgriScot Seminar takes place at 2.30pm today (22 Nov) in Seminar Room 2 at the Royal Highland Centre, Edinburgh. Watch the livestream here.

Speakers are: Amy Geddes, Scottish Agronomy; Martin MacDonald, Highland Grain; Andrew Marchant, Tarff Valley; and Scott Calderwood, First Milk