Willie Gill: Let's value fresh produce

SUCCESSFUL farming vital link in Scotland's food chain, writes Willie Gill

Former Rural Affairs secretary Richard Lochhead believed agriculture was one of Scotlands defining industries. Picture: TSPL
Former Rural Affairs secretary Richard Lochhead believed agriculture was one of Scotlands defining industries. Picture: TSPL

In June I was invited to attend the Scotland Food & Drink Excellence Awards on behalf of the Royal Highland & Agricultural Society of Scotland (RHASS), of which I am Chairman.

It was my absolute pleasure to be present at this event again this year, surrounded by the cream of Scotland’s blossoming food and drink industry, which I’m pleased to hear is on track to reach a value of £16.5billion in 2017.

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My role, on behalf of the Royal Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland, which founded these awards in 2007, was to ensure that the primary food producers in Scotland were recognised alongside the many awards given out on the night. Our wider role is to support the agricultural and land based industries in Scotland.

I don’t believe anyone could contest the vital link farming is in this delicate chain that we are all a part of but, just in case, former Rural Affairs secretary Richard Lochhead put it best when he said: “Agriculture is one of Scotland’s defining industries. Not only is it the foundation stone of our thriving food and drink sector, it strengthens the social fabric of our rural communities and provides essential services that all of Scotland benefits from including food protection, clean air and water and a rich and varied wildlife.”

The success of Scotland’s agricultural industry is integral to the wide food supply chain. We as a country, and an industry, need to make sure it is looked after to ensure our continued success. It is no secret that external forces such as grain and dairy prices, and poor weather, are putting the farming community under considerable strain.

However, although we can’t do anything about the weather, by buying locally and passing margins back to the farmer where possible, we can collectively help our primary producers endure whatever storms come their way.

Each year we show off the very best that Scottish primary food producers have to offer at the Royal 
Highland Show as part of Scotland’s Larder Live!, our food show. It is a unique opportunity to connect the producers with consumers as more than 100 exhibitors showcase their diverse range of food and drink, artisan producers sharing centre stage with larger food and drink brands.

It seems fitting that following Scotland’s Year of Food & Drink in 2015 is a Year of Innovation, Architecture & Design in 2016. In agriculture especially, the trend of innovation is of significant importance to economic development. In order to get more from less, farmers increase production and performance by embracing innovation and best practice, helped by world-leading research institutes such as the James Hutton Institute, Moredun and the Roslin Institute.

At RHASS we have our own method of identifying excellence in innovation with our annual Technical Innovation Awards. Each year, world-leading innovators in the field of agricultural technology are recognised at our Technical Innovation Awards for their contributions that make farming more productive, efficient and often safer.

Next year the RHASS will give out around £100,000 in awards and grants to individuals contributing to the success of Scotland’s land-based industries, with the majority of these roles supporting the food supply chain, which now accounts for one in eight jobs in Scotland.

You don’t need me to tell you that if we are going to give Scotland a much deserved reputation as being a Land of Food and Drink, we all need to work together. Everyone talks about collaboration, but it is so important.

• Willie Gill is chairman of the Royal Highland & Agricultural Society of Scotland