Study Tour Demonstrates Co-operation in Practice to Next Generation Winners

Three fourth-year Honours students studying Rural Business Management have won the 2017 SAOS Next Generation competition, which is run in partnership with SRUC. The top placed team of Emma Parvin, Joanne Breese and Ashleigh Nelson, produced a business plan for setting up an organic beef co-operative in the North East of Scotland.

This year, the winners’ three-day study tour took in a variety of co-ops and collaborative groups in Scotland. First port of call was Scottish Shellfish, where Managing Director, Stephen Cameron, gave them a full insight into the marketing supply chain. There was also an opportunity to see the processing operation  the Bellshill plant and apparently the chance to try an oyster for the first time was quite an experience for several!

Next stop on the tour was a visit to GrainCo’s OatCo site just outside Glenrothes, where they were welcomed by farm trader, Simon Thomson; Commercial Manager, Gavin Will and group Chairman, John Hutcheson. OatCo is the single largest supplier of milling oats into Quaker and the students learnt about the benefits of collective marketing, as well as the structure of the business.

A short visit to Loch Leven Larder allowed the students to hear from SAOS’ own Douglas Watson, who gave an insight into the benefits of setting up collaborative groups, and talked about the development of farmers markets over the last decade.

The group then visited Scottish Agronomy, which is devoted to the provision of unbiased arable advice to its farmer members. Managing Director, Andrew Gilchrist, took time out of crop walking to explain the services the co-op provides. The group visited a trial plot, where Andrew described the process of information gathering, the importance of accuracy and how these trials benefit co-op members.

Next Gen Comp ESGThe next visit was to East of Scotland Growers, where Managing Director, Andrew Faichney, and Agronomy Manager, Andrew Orr, began by giving the students an insight into the business and the benefits the co-op gives members. Primarily a group made up of broccoli growers, ESG controls the planning, and programming, agronomy, customer communications, sales allocations, logistics and quality control all from the site based in Fife on behalf of their members. A visit to ESG member Ross Foster meant they were able to see first-hand the harvest and packaging operation which takes place on farm. Ross also very kindly gave the group a fascinating insight into his relatively new Anaerobic Digester.

(Left to right: Andrew Orr of ESG is pictured with the winners, Emma Parvin, Ashleigh Nelson and Joanne Breese.)

En route home, the final stop was at St Andrew’s Farmhouse Cheese. Owner, Jane Stewart, is also the chair of the Fine Cheese Makers of Scotland, a group of producers who share knowledge, skills, marketing and innovation amongst participating businesses. There was also a popular opportunity to sample some of Jane’s delicious cheese.

Anna Robertson, SAOS Project Manager, who accompanied the group, commented: “Emma, Ashleigh and Joanne did a great job on their co-op business case study, it was clearly evident that a lot of research and thought had gone into the feasibility of setting up an organic beef co-operative and I congratulate them. I’d also like to thank all of our co-op hosts for their time and the support they gave which helped make this study tour possible. SAOS is delighted to continue its support to educate SRUC students about the benefits of co-operation and collaboration throughout the food and drink supply chain. It’s really beneficial to show the ‘next generation’ of farmers what can be achieved.”

Pictured below: Andrew Gilchrist, MD of Scottish Agronomy, explains more about crop trials to the winning students.

Next Gen Comp Scot Agron