Whisky barley and potato seed co-ops join Scottish apex SAOS

Banff and Moray Grain and the Seed Potato Organisation boost SAOS’s combined membership turnover of £1.5bn

Scotland’s agri co-operative umbrella body, SAOS, has welcomed two additional co-ops to its membership over the summer.

The move boosts the combined £1.5bn membership turnover of the Scottish Agricultural Organisation Society and came as the apex announced a raft of appointments to its team.

The first of these, Banff and Moray Grain, was established 25 years ago, while the other, the Seed Potato Organisation, was formed only very recently.

Banff and Moray Grain was formed in 1998 as a dedicated producer group to supply malting barley to WN Lindsay Ltd. Following the acquisition of Lindsay’s by Simpsons Malt Ltd, the co-op moved its allegiance to supply Boortmalt. All its malting barley is destined for the Chivas distillery at Glenlivet, for the production of malt whisky.

Banff and Moray Grain markets a total of around 70,000t of spring malting barley on behalf of its 130 farmer members. The co-op handles the marketing, logistics and payments for members, and while it has no central grain store, there is some long-term storage provided by members on-farm.

Co-op chair Stuart Geddes, from Dallachy Farm, said: “The board recognised that the business has grown over the last decade, and that we needed to strengthen our governance practices to ensure we meet our increasing obligations to members and customers.

“By joining SAOS, we will benefit from the skills and experience that its staff can bring, plus we can gain access to the wider network of other farmer co-ops. In an increasingly uncertain and volatile world, it is important we continue to improve our Board’s practices to ensure the co-op’s continued success.”

Jim Booth, co-op development director at SAOS, added: “I’m delighted that Banff and Moray Grain has joined SAOS. The malting barley sector is critically important to Scottish agriculture and, with Banff and Moray Grain joining Aberdeen Grain, East of Scotland Farmers, Highland Grain and GrainCo Scotland as SAOS members, their combined tonnage is around a third of the market share. This will no doubt create further opportunities for our grain co-ops to benefit their farmer members.”

The other new member, the Seed Potato Organisation, emerged following the cessation of AHDB Potatoes and the resulting loss of services and momentum. Seed potato growers identified several specific issues where there was a need for a seed-orientated organisation to support the development of their sector.

Beginning in 2022, founder grower members have held meetings across seed potato growing areas to discuss the merits of a successor body, with the resulting consensus that growers were most interested in an organisation that represented their specific sector of the potato industry.

For the sector to thrive, it is essential that a grower-led leadership body is in place to co-ordinate activities and be the focal point for guidance and direction to stakeholders. An independent organisation, the Seed Potato Organisation, has been established as a co-op and is run by seed growers for the benefit of members. The aim of the Seed Potato Organisation is to establish a lean organisation with a focus on activities relevant to the seed industry. Key areas of focus include innovation, research and technical services; support and development of markets for seed potatoes; and ensuring economic and environmental sustainability.

Patrick Hughes of SAOS said: “The UK seed potato sector has many strengths, but to protect and enhance its global reputation requires a united and dynamic organisation that can work in partnership with government organisations and stakeholders to develop an efficient sector producing high quality seed potatoes.

“The creation of the Seed Potato Organisation co-op enables growers to set their own agenda for the future economic and environmental sustainability of the seed potato sector, and to focus on relevant activities to the seed industry while delivering value for money. Numbers have been growing throughout 2023, and the membership is now around 25% of the seed potato grower base. We encourage more seed growers to engage and help establish an even stronger united voice for the sector.”