VISITING Scotland this week, the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board made a clear commitment to help secure the future of Scotland's farmers and growers.

The board's visit involved meeting businesses in Angus and Meigle, to hear the challenges facing the soft fruit industry, and meeting with NFUS and Food and Drink Scotland to hear how an integrated approach in Scotland is preparing the industry for challenges facing the sector, not least Brexit.

Collaboration was the underlying theme of AHDB's planning, as it stressed how it was working with key partners to pool resources and expertise: “In Scotland we work not only with bodies such as Quality Meat Scotland and SRUC but with research institutes, NFUS and of course the Scottish Government," said AHDB chief executive Jane King.

"However with Brexit on the horizon, we want to strengthen those ties to ramp up the rate of improvement of the agriculture sector in Scotland. We could be more effective as an industry as a whole if we pulled together and mobilised the industry in a more coherent way.”

At the end of October, AHDB will be launching its first Brexit paper explicitly focusing on Scotland, offering intelligence, evidence and analysis to help the country prepare for the uncertain road ahead. AHDB has also been working on modelling work around the impact of Brexit on the various sectors and will be looking at a variety of scenarios – and harsh realities – they believe farmers and growers will experience.

Ms King added: “It’s very important the industry doesn’t sleepwalk into Brexit and we start thinking about the repercussions that might be coming and help prepare people for that.”

Some of the board's recent work has focused on driving profitability in the dairy sector by researching the rival benefits of two principle dairy systems – block calving, whether it is in the spring, autumn or summer – and all-year-round calving. In both systems, it has found that the best performers make sustainable profits even in a low milk price environment.

The reputation of the dairy industry is another AHDB focus, as it comes under attack regarding both the nutritional content of milk and dairy farming practices. Joining with Dairy UK and a number of large milk processors, £1.2 million is being invested in a campaign to promote a more positive story for the sector.

“We want to bring together a long-term campaign which seeks to put dairy on the front foot in terms of raising the positive messages around dairy products so that we have an offensive around why dairy is good,” said Ms King.

Another key AHDB initiative which should have a beneficial impact on the Scottish industry is Farmbench, a new benchmarking system due to be rolled out across the UK later this autumn, which allows farmers and growers to understand and compare costs of production at both enterprise and whole farm level. Costs can be split across beef, sheep, potato and arable enterprises, with a dairy version coming online in 2018.

“A big part of our vision is to provide a world class industry which can compete with the best and is inspired by the best and to do that we need to look at what the best are doing and also look at our own businesses," concluded Ms King.