AS ARABLE crops are coming on well across the country we should be thankful this year, not only for the good weather we’ve currently had here in Aberdeenshire but also, that as an industry we have been able to continue, for the majority, as normally as possible throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Spring crops went in in good order this year, with the looked-for rain now making all the difference. Let us hope the distilleries get up and running quickly to get most of last year’s malt barley used up before storage for this year’s crop becomes an issue.

Now, with that rain washing in the fertilizer and lime, and the warmer days we are now getting, there is enough grass keep the cattle out grazing all summer, and silage here in Aberdeenshire is coming on well.

There are around 70 farmer owned cooperatives operating throughout Scotland, all striving to provide the same level of service to their members as they did prior to the pandemic unfolding. The continued “virtual” collaboration between members continues to allow each of them to benefit from the economies of scale and diverse board and management knowledge in their respective fields. Remote working and advances in technology have no doubt enabled many businesses throughout the country to continue to operate as they were before.

The livestock sector here in Scotland has certainly benefited from this in comparison to some of the other devolved nations of the United Kingdom and even further afield. Abattoir’s processing pigs here have continued largely unaffected. There may have been unarguable staff shortages, but strong management this has meant little impact to on-farm operations. This with a wiling team of hauliers, we have seen little impact. Comparing this to the US for example, with some of the world’s largest abattoirs processing in excess of 20,000 pigs per day forced to close, leaving famers no option but to euthanize slaughter weight animals on farm or abort in pig sow’s.

Our auction marts in Scotland have continued to provide the transparent pricing mechanism throughout these unprecedented times but others have seen their markets close and farmers unable to keep their production systems operational as they would have otherwise. Sellers leaving their stock at the lairage and a limited number of buyers in the ring, backed up by the online bidding facility. What would those that came before us make of this? “Drouthy neebors” no longer meet, “market days” now not “wearing late”, few “folk begin to tak the gate”, no one “sits bousin at the nappy, getting fou and unco happy”, not worrying about “the mosses, waters, slaps, and styles, that lie between us and our hame”. Instead we sit with “our sulky sullen dame, gathering her brows like gathering storm, nursing her wrath to keep it warm” at the lack of knowledge of computers, and the frustration at the WIFI cuts out, but were thankful that they are able to continue to operate through the crisis.

Unfortunately, not all cooperatives have been able to adapt so ably to the pandemic, not because of their structure or management but because of the restrictions imposed and effects on the market caused by Coronavirus. Soft fruits, daffodils and sea food cooperatives have all faced unprecedented challenges in recent weeks. A distinct lack of clarity between the devolved nations has been estimated to cost members producing 3.6m bunches of daffodil flowers for Grampian Growers, left to wither in the fields, estimated to cost members in the region of £1m. MD Mark Clark has been hard at work looking to secure export opportunities for the bulbs.

Soft fruit growers the length and breadth of the country have also seen their share of trouble in the wake of COVID-19 with their seasonal workforce unable to travel to the UK with travel restrictions imposed. Air bridges may come too late to save the bulk of this year’s crops. Prince Charles may have made a positive contribution with his “Pick for Britain” campaign encouraging UK residents to help those struggling to get workers and save their crops from rotting.

Sea food cooperatives have also been badly hit with the coronavirus pandemic. Some recent reports suggest that consumption of salmon has reduced by over 27% wiping £27.7m off its value.

Then, just when things were looking up for beef, lamb, pig and poultry famers all over the country, the general public, our consumers, were coming round and realising the work that goes in to food production to keep the nation fed during a pandemic. The importance of a domestic food supply! MP’s at Westminster decide to vote down a bill that would have seen imports matching the welfare and productions standards that we must stick to here in Scotland and the UK. Voting for this bill would have protected both the food standards we have, and also public health by excluding products like hormone treated beef and chlorinated chicken.

There is no doubt in my mind, that we are all better off working together, from livestock to milk, sea food to soft fruits to flowers, auction marts to machinery rings, there is a diverse range of cooperatives operating throughout Scotland, all benefitting from the diverse knowledge of their board, management and industry supporters such as the Scottish Agricultural Organisation Society.