What a difference a day makes! Lisa Farrell guest blogs on her SAOS conference experience

We’re delighted to have a ‘guest spot’ for our staff blog – Lisa Farrell, Research Development Officer at the University of Stirling tells us about a ‘whirlwind 24 hours’ and her immersion into SAOS and Scottish agriculture:

“As a city native (Liverpool), in an office-based career, my interaction with Scottish agriculture hadn’t stretched much further than farmer banter at Kirkcaldy Rugby club. However, one 24-hour period at the end of January turned all of that on its head! Having met the dynamic Helen Glass of SAOS at a meeting with Data Science colleagues at University of Stirling, I was very quickly confirmed as a delegate at the SAOS annual conference – taking place the following day!

Having arrived at a snowy Dunblane Hydro, I was plunged headlong into the world of Scottish agriculture, and despite my unfamiliarity, was quickly struck by how challenges faced here are replicated across multiple industries. The need to move with changing population dynamics as well as the opportunities presented by current and emerging technologies are universal.

Furthermore, I saw numerous linkages between real-world problems the agricultural community is facing and the research my colleagues here at Stirling are developing. The obvious connections to be made (and indeed have been made) are between our data and computer scientists and owners of large data sets, but I am also keen to develop linkages around the issue of ageing population; both in terms of end consumers and workforce within Scottish agriculture and Stirling’s world renowned research on ageing.

Two weeks after the conference, Stirling researchers are now working in collaboration with SAOS members to develop a funding bid around Big Data, with numerous other projects in the pipeline!”

James Graham receives prestigious Ambassador Award

PWP_3039SAOS Chief Executive, James Graham, was recognised for his outstanding contribution to Scottish agriculture and food industry collaboration when he received the NFUS/NFU Mutual Ambassador trophy at last night’s annual NFU Scotland dinner in Glasgow.

Established in 2009, the award was set up to recognise those individuals who, through their own efforts, have played an influential role in communicating the work, challenges and the value of Scottish food and farming to a wider audience.

James began his career with SAOS in 1986, becoming Chief Executive in 1998 and, after spending almost 21 years in the post, announced last year his intention to step down in March 2019.

On top of his extensive work as SAOS Chief Executive, James is a founder member of Scotland Food & Drink’s Partnership Board, and Co-Chair of Scotland Food & Drink’s Supply Chain Board.

There are very few people who have done as much for the Scottish supply chain; James has had a lead role in some of the most important developments in the last 20 years. These include the development of ScotEID and Scotland’s livestock traceability system.

NFU Scotland Chief Executive Scott Walker, who has worked closely with James throughout his career, said: “James is a person who many people in the farming and food industry will have turned to at some point in time. Always willing to give time to provide well considered advice and support, he has helped many people and businesses over the years.

“James can rightly claim to have played a part in the growth and success of many co-operative businesses as well as supporting the development of many people who work in the industry.

“A strong advocate for the co-operative sector and its benefits, he has championed collaborative working. Working through Scotland Food and Drink, he has helped drive an ambition to grow the food and drink industry in Scotland while ensuring that farmers and crofters’ benefit. Willing to challenge the status, quo James has supported and driven innovative ways to solve problems and issues.

“He leaves behind a very strong organisation in SAOS very much shaped by him. There are lots of people across the industry who will have benefited from his advice and will count him as a friend.”

SAOS Next Generation Award Split Decision

SOAS, Dunblane Hydro, 31/1/19. © Malcolm Cochrane Photography +44 (0)7971 835 065 mail@malcolmcochrane.co.uk No syndication No reproduction without permission

At yesterday’s SAOS Annual Conference, the Next Generation Award was presented to not one, but two recipients.  It was announced that the judging panel had found it impossible to choose between Peter Duthie and John Taylor of Scottish Pig Producers. SAOS Chairman, Mark Clark, presented their awards before the conference dinner at Doubletree Dunblane Hydro Hotel.

Both Peter and John were recruited straight from school in Huntly by Gordon McKen and, from the start, their work ethic and honesty was clearly evident. They have since demonstrated sound judgement and an ability to deliver their responsibilities without needing constant supervision. This, in turn, has enabled SPP Chief Executive Andy McGowan, who nominated them, to concentrate more on customer engagement and strategic development of the Scottish Pig industry.

Andy explained: “John primarily manages operations for the co-op’s Scottish members, whilst Peter focusses on Northern Ireland. Between them, they deliver the complete weekly cycle of schedule, logistics, customer liaison, movement licensing, banking and member payments, along with sorting out numerous ‘challenges’. This involves about 10,000 pigs, 110 members, 11 customers and a weekly value in excess of £1 million. John also organises the operations for our other company, Wholesome Pigs Scotland, whilst Peter does the WPS accounts and manages our ISO9001 accreditation too.”

A serious fire in August 2017 closed the Brechin abattoir for three and a half months, meaning Peter and John had to find immediate alternatives for more than 80,000 pigs in Scotland, England and Northern Ireland. Andy continues: “This involved grappling with regulations on drivers’ hours, limited haulage capacity, processor breakdowns, veterinary inspections and numerous other challenges. At one stage, they both went out to help a member tag and load pigs at 4am because of last minute changes. Each successive problem was absorbed with professionalism and dark humour, with members commenting that they wouldn’t have realised Brechin was shut as the impact on them was minimal thanks to the SPP team. In the meantime, Peter also ensured that the Northern Ireland members were not neglected and the NI throughput continues to go strongly.

“When the SPP bookkeeper left last May, John and Peter announced that they’d try covering the work between them, which they did with no visible impact on their other roles. And when Brechin had to close again for a fortnight last summer due to the CO2 shortage, this was met with little more than a bit of cursing before solutions were found again.”

Both have also continued with their personal development and earlier this year were awarded Professional Certificates in Management (John) and Finance (Peter) with the Open University. They are also active participants in the SAOS Young Managers Group and Peter has set up two Next Generation groups within SPP.

Presenting the award, SAOS Chairman, Mark Clark, commented: “Peter and John are both worthy recipients of this award. They are clearly invaluable to Scottish Pig Producers, and are wonderful examples of the kind of work ethic and attitude that we’re looking to recognise. They embrace co-operative working and personal development, and show huge resilience and good humour through very significant changes and challenges. Congratulations to them both.”

The Next Generation Award, which is presented biennially, forms part of SAOS’ work to encourage, motivate and recognise younger people involved in agricultural and rural co-ops. Nominees must be 40 years of age or younger and must have made an impression on the industry with their leadership, vision and commitment to co-operation. SAOS’ Stephen Young, who manages the award process, commented: “Our Next Generation award is great for bringing forward young individuals in our member co-ops who are making a real difference now and who we expect to see even more of in the future.”

Previous winners of the award are Rory Christie, Chairman of the Milk Suppliers Association and now an SAOS Board Member, and Kate Drever who, since her win two years ago, has been promoted to the position of General Manager of Aberdeen Grain.


Places are filling up for this year’s SAOS Conference on 31 Jan. Book now!

This year’s SAOS Conference which will focus on ‘Promoting Innovation Through Co-operation’, takes place on Jan 31st at Dunblane Hydro, and is looking to be our best and biggest ever.

We have a really excellent programme looking at innovation, with a mix of stimulating presentations and speakers, including an address by Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy, Fergus Ewing MSP, who will also take questions from the audience in the afternoon session.

The contributors to our afternoon panel session, which always provides a great debate, this year are:

Ian Cruickshank, Chairman, Aberdeen Grain
John Gregor, Executive Director, ANM Group
Suzanne George, Board Director, Growers Garden
Alan Stevenson, Supply Chain Development Director, SAOS

We have secured larger rooms for all the sessions this year, so we have no shortage of space and we’re really looking to encourage a great turnout.

  • Once again we have a number of free ‘Next Generation’ places for co-op staff/members aged under 40 who are first time conference attendees.
  • Any co-op with four or more attendees for the full 24-hour package gets a reduced rate.
  • This year we are also offering two free places to member co-ops who have not had members attend our conference previously.

We know that once members attend and get the benefit of the experience, they tend to keep coming, so we’d really like more co-ops and members to get involved.

To confirm details/eligibility of these offers, please contact jennifer.grant@saos.coop, otherwise please download and send in your booking form.



SAOS 2019 ConferenceJan31

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