Thirty-two years ago, in 1987, a ground-breaking new initiative was born into rural Scotland.
Agricultural Machinery Rings, at the time unknown here but well established and successful in countries like Germany, have since gone on to attract more than 7,000 members in Scotland, spread from the Orkneys to the Borders.
Today there are nine Rings in Scotland, each of which has a co-operative structure meaning they are owned by, and managed for, the benefit of their members, who range from individual homeowners, to businesses such as hotels, golf clubs and, of course, farmers and agricultural contractors.
Each Ring acts as an agent, working on behalf of members to secure the best available deal on inputs, services, utilities and purchases.
The core work of the Rings involves helping to match farmers with surplus machinery or labour to those in need of these services. A straightforward example of this could be matching the hire of a combine harvester from a farmer who has finished their harvest to another farmer whose machine has broken down.
However, in the true spirit of co-operation, the Rings have evolved to be much more than this – up to half of their turnover now comes from commodities and utilities. The 7,000 members gives the Rings serious negotiating power, for example on farm fuel.
Members purchasing supplies through the Ring can make significant savings in terms of value and time versus shopping for themselves on the open market.
A strong example of the power of co-operation through the Rings is the rebate and discount schemes negotiated with major manufacturers. One such, the rebate scheme, negotiated collectively by the nine Scottish Machinery Rings, sees members save up to £3,000 on the purchase of a new tractor, telehandler, combine or baler from the manufacturer.
Ring members can also benefit from significant discount off certain Toyota and Ford vehicles, including the pick-ups, beloved of farmers and gamekeepers. An interesting example of a non-farming member benefiting from membership of Borders Machinery Ring is a joiner who recently saved 35 per cent on the purchase price of his new Toyota van thanks to fleet discount deals negotiated by the Rings.
The Rings also work, separately and collectively, to provide rural training resources. Between them the machinery Rings cover the majority of rural Scotland, and each has an active role as a local hub for the provision of training.
Each Ring works with professional instructors to offer regular training opportunities in everything from emergency first-aid to manual handling & working at heights, ATV, excavator and forklift operation to pesticide application and pest control.
Machinery Rings can offer Lantra and City & Guilds accredited training services to businesses looking to train their workforce or individuals looking to upskill.
In addition to the agricultural and rural business training offered, Scotland’s machinery Rings can also offer CPC driver training to hauliers and other goods vehicle operators and drivers, specialist arboriculture training to utility company field staff, and ADR training for those transporting hazardous goods.
A recent development from Scotland’s Rings has been the roll out of a new pre-apprenticeship scheme. The scheme seeks to promote the range of career opportunities available in rural businesses and help to tackle the lack of young people seeking employment in the rural sector.
Started by Ringlink in the North East, but now also available in the Borders, Dumfries and Galloway, Perthshire, Fife and the Highlands, the pre-apprenticeship scheme offers young people aged 16-21 the opportunity of a meaningful six-month work placement in a practical working environment and an insight into the range of vocational careers offered by farming and the land-based industries.
The Machinery Rings match young people to suitable mentors, provide training and qualifications in skills such as tractor driving and health and safety, and provide a solid platform for those seeking further education or a career in the rural sector.
Each Ring has its own website and local offices and I would urge anyone looking to upskill, train their workforce or gain mandatory qualifications or to save money on purchases from building supplies, to fuel, fertiliser, agrochemicals to phones and professional services to contact their local machinery Ring and discuss the opportunities.
Michael Bayne is manager of Borders Machinery Ring – a member of the Scottish Machinery Rings Association (SMRA), www.scottishmachineryrings.co.uk