The Royal Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland (RHASS) was founded over 200 years ago, and in that time the world has seen huge amounts of environmental change. Committed to ensuring that future generations can continue to live and work in Scotland’s rural communities, RHASS supports sustainable practices and helps advance innovative thinking in the sector.
The Royal Highland Show, the Society’s flagship event, is an important, if not the most important, annual meeting place for farmers in Scotland and beyond. The Show provides a forum for farmers to discuss new ways of working, share best practice and discover new solutions that will help them to farm to the benefit of both their business and the land.
The RHASS Technical Innovation Awards are a key part of RHASS’s charitable remit and recognise the new products and inventions that are helping to develop the sector. The award entries are truly heartening each year, as we witness first-hand the incredible designs that are helping to revolutionise the industry; whether that’s a filter which reduces food waste caused by potato peels or an environmentally efficient grain drying system.
But sustainability isn’t just about being green – it’s also about ensuring that we build an industry that can meet the demands of tomorrow and adapt to the changes and challenges that invariably come our way. Young people are the key changemakers of the future, so it’s essential they are supported and encouraged to pursue careers in the agri-sector.
One of the ways RHASS does this is through a series of awards and grants, focused on giving young people opportunities they wouldn’t usually have had access to, like overseas projects and attending top conferences. One invites applications from ambitious young people from or based in Scotland wishing to attend the Oxford Farming Conference, while another awards funding for a prestigious Nuffield Farming Scholarship.
The Scottish Association of Young Farmers Clubs (SAYFC) is another organisation that the Society works closely with to cultivate young leaders. In recent years, RHASS has helped fund a study trip to California, and every year provides access to SAYFC members to the Royal Highland Show.
Looking back along the years, RHASS has a long history of supporting innovative ideas that have helped advance the sector. RHASS were pioneers at the time in funding scientific research and the furtherment of veterinary studies through the patronage of, among others, The Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies.
More recently, the Society has supported the development of progressive wheat breeding programmes and studies into regenerative agriculture – an approach that works with nature, not against it, and aims to counter the effects of intensive farming.
The claims surrounding the ecological impact of Britain’s farmers have been unfairly levelled against the industry in recent years. Take the immediate debate around CO2; because of rising energy prices, manufacture of fertiliser products in the UK has been stopped.
In some people’s view this is a good thing because of the reduction of emissions – however, the CO2 produced as a by-product of fertiliser is essential for a number of medical procedures, food preservation and other uses that are vital to our daily functioning as a country. The question is not whether to eat meat or not – the discussion must centre instead on how we ensure agriculture and closely aligned trades are best placed to ensure the sustainability of our nation's food supply, and delivering it in the most holistic fashion possible.
Farmers are the custodians of 72% of the UK’s land, and as such are key players in how we manage and build sustainable solutions to the issues facing society today. Events like the Highland Show and the awards and grants provided by RHASS help prompt change, encourage the farming community to bring the environment to the forefront of their thinking, and, ultimately, help shape a sustainable sector.
Alan Laidlaw, Chief Executive of the Royal Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland