SAOS Chief Exec Tim Bailey blogs his reflections on 2019

How was 2019 for SAOS and the agri sector in general?

It’s been another successful year for SAOS, with our workload continuing to grow, both in our co-op development and supply chain activities, and underpinning our reputation as a ‘can-do’ solution provider, working with different sectors facing challenge.

It’s been a mixed year for the agri sector. It’s been challenging for the beef sector, with prices remaining depressed. Dairy farmers have been struggling to get a further boost in the milk price to allow them to invest ahead and diversify beyond the commodity supply of liquid milk. The African Swine Fever epidemic sweeping through China and the rest of Asia has resulted in some benefit for our pig sector and should mean further increased export opportunities. For the arable sector it’s been a ‘game of two halves’; ideal early sowing and cultivation conditions in the spring, but ending the year with very wet and challenging conditions for harvest and autumn sowing.

How did SAOS make a difference in 2019?

We have worked closely with our co-op members to help them further develop and future-proof their businesses. This has included helping them review and refresh their business strategies to prepare for the future, to help them sustain and develop their internal talent, and to think about how they could innovate what they offer through the launch of a new Co-op Innovation Service. With our supply chain development work, we worked in a number of new sectors to identify new sales opportunities, both at home and abroad, and also identified cost efficiencies achievable by all players in the supply chain working together more effectively. Collectively these benefits have already amounted to over £17m worth of benefit. We have also worked closely with our industry partners to work-up development plans to underpin the future of the Scottish dairy, beef and poultry sectors to make them more sustainable and resilient for the future.

What challenges do you see ahead, and how is SAOS preparing?

We need more clarity on a number of areas affecting Scottish agriculture. This includes understanding future immigration policy and, specifically, the planned Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme (SAWS) and how it will be applied in terms of the recruitment and engagement of labour. This is absolutely critical for the ongoing operation of the soft fruit and vegetable sectors. It also affects how we can address the underlying issues resulting in a fragile processing sector. Processing capacity is critical to sustain local food production and offers the potential for added-value products to avoid an over-reliance on commodity markets. We are anxious to see what future Agricultural policy will look like.

SAOS is preparing for all these challenges by working closely with our industry partners and colleagues in Government and identifying how we can support and incentivise co-operation in all its formats to help address many of the these challenges in the years ahead.