Wet start fails to dampen spirits at Royal Highland Show

AS THE country came to town for the Royal Highland Show yesterday, rural affairs secretary Richard Lochhead announced a number of measures to promote Scottish food and drink.

Among the initiatives announced on the first day of show was a scheme to promote local and organic food in schools and a new raft of apprenticeships in the food and drink industry.

Despite the grey clouds and intermittent showers, the atmosphere at the showground was buoyant.

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Mr Lochhead said: “It is always a big day. It is Scotland’s biggest countryside get-together and the rural sector is in an optimistic mood.”

He added: “Generally the demand for Scottish food produce is rising and there are massive opportunities for the rural sector.”

Among the Scottish Government initiatives announced at Ingliston near Edinburgh was a £775,000 award for Food for Life, a scheme for bringing more fresh, seasonal, local and organic food into schools in conjunction with the Soil Association.

Laura Stewart, director of the Soil Association, said: “A third of school-age children in Scotland are classified as overweight or obese and nine in ten do not eat the recommended amount of fruit and vegetables, so providing children with a good meal at school is vital.”

Mr Lochhead met 19-year-old Morven Campbell, who is now a trainee farm manager at Strathmore Farming Company in Glamis having completed a modern apprenticeship. He said the Scottish Government was keen to encourage more apprenticeships in food and farming.

“It is about inspiring people to make careers in our burgeoning food and drink sector,” he said. “Food and drink is now a sexy industry and a place for young people to build a good career.”

The minister met beef producers and encouraged them to plan ahead – saying demand was expected to rise as new markets for Scottish produce open up in Europe and the Middle East. He said the Scottish Government was also lobbying the US to lift the ban on imported Scottish beef, brought in following the BSE outbreak.

Among the chefs giving demonstrations and showcasing Scottish produce yesterday were television star Ainsley Harriott and The Scotsman cookery writer Lady Claire Macdonald. Chef Nick Nairn, Scottish Secretary Michael Moore, Lib Dem MSP Tavish Scott, UK Farm Minister James Paice, Miss Scotland Nicole Treacy and Countryfile presenter Adam Henson were also on site.

Stephen Hutt, chief executive of the Royal Highland Show and Agricultural Society, said: “I think the atmosphere has been great.

“It is wonderful to see good numbers of people whose enthusiasm isn’t dampened by the Scottish weather. People’s spirits are really high.

“I think it is one of those curious cases of something which is a social event, where people come together who often haven’t seen each other since the last time – and it is also a really strong business event.

“It is also a great showcase for all the wonderful things Scotland has to offer.”