SCOTLAND and its place in Europe in a changing political climate was the topic under scrutiny at the annual Farming Scotland conference, held in Carnoustie last week.
Sponsored by land agents Bell Ingram, EQ Chartered Accountants, RBS, and Thorntons Solicitors with additional support from Angus Council, over 160 delegates including a number of pupils from local secondary schools, heard a range of presentations with titles as diverse as ‘Growing Potatoes in an Island Nation’, ‘Farming for Tomorrow’, ‘Current Political Policy’ and the ‘Success Story of Arbikie Vodka and Gin’.
Ian Piggott farms 2000 acres in Herts, is the brains behind Open Farm Sunday and has opened a school on the farm to reconnect children with agriculture. Passionate about getting the message across, he lamented the lack of education and awareness surrounding farming; highlighting a recent social media post where somebody asked: “How do you know what cow produces full fat milk and what cow produces semi-skimmed milk?”
A multi award winning farmer, Ian had huge praise for The Royal Highland Educational Trust and the work it does in Scotland, but despaired that the negative propaganda on social media from celebrities such as Chris Packham, tabloid newspapers and ill-informed lobby groups was damaging the farming industry.
AHDB Strategy Director for Potatoes Rob Clayton gave a hugely illuminating talk on where we in Scotland are in terms of world production and perception. In summary, the Scottish seed brand is greatly respected as a Unique Selling Point and must be protected while, simultaneously, there are huge opportunities to be taken advantage of in terms of efficiency, cost saving, marketing and expanding into new markets.
At the same time, there were threats to the market coming from imported diseases and other plant pathogens. Whatever happens post Brexit, Mr Clayton said that we must secure the high status of the seed potato industry. China is the growing market for potatoes and already other countries have set up in China to advise on growing the crops there, he advised. Scotland had much to do to catch up.
He also strongly urged consumers to ditch the pasta and rice and return to potatoes, and welcomed moves from the readymade meal companies to expand their product range.
The field to bottle story of Arbikie vodka gave an insight into one family’s desire to diversify using home grown potatoes and other local produce. Iain Stirling, who co-owns the enterprise with his brothers, summarised the decision-making and marketing that has made this young company a prize-winner worldwide.
The company’s gin, produced using botanicals sourced locally from Lunan Bay, has also won awards. Now, along with Arbikie’s growing number of products, a visitor centre is planned for the brand. Based on simplicity, quality staff and ingredients, dedication, and a bespoke marketing drive, Arbikie is a real success story for Angus and farming in general.