At a recent cake and coffee fuelled meeting of our 2014 Congress organising committee the esteemed Ken Fletcher said "I'm so excited I want to do the tours now". Being an excitable PR type, I was already holding back an eruption of "this is going to be a fantastic Congress boys!" for fear of the rolling journalistic eyes and expressions of exasperation at a severe case of over-exuberance. But following Ken's opener it was fair game to have my say. And as the intervening weeks have unfolded, my excitement remains high octane!
It helps that we have some fantastic stories to tell. We are hosting the
Congress in a region of the British Isles that is rich in agricultural and
land-use diversity. We have more than our fair share of progressive and
innovative farmers. We have supporting agri-food R&D of international
repute and we have an established and coveted reputation for food and drink of
Here's a snapshot of some of our stories.
The Beef & Red Meat itinerary will take delegates to see the oldest
Aberdeen Angus herd in the world at Ballindalloch Estate, we will visit a
progressive venison producer and a commercial family livestock farm. This
itinerary tour will outline how farming has and continues to work with the
supply chain and industry bodies to develop and promote the Scotch Beef and
Scotch Lamb brands globally.
Philip Benzie is one if the biggest growers of Rooster potatoes in the UK
with 1,400 acres in the ground this year. He is a very technical proficient and
commercially focused farmer. Rooster is a variety developed and sold by Albert
Bartlett and it is a great example of how a different approach to marketing and
supply chain can create a valuable business. Bartlett now markets the variety
globally and the sales have grown to £70 million.
The Diversification, Forestry & Energy tour will make their way to the
stunning and historic Glenlivet Estate, which is part of the Crown Estate. The
terrain and farming conditions at Glenlivet are tough, yet there are some
really good examples of how the estate's tenants have capitalised on what they
have to develop tourism, energy and farming businesses.
The Fresh Produce and Fruit tour will take us to see two progressive young
farmers - Mike McLaren a large brassica grower for East of Scotland Growers
group, Mike also processes and packs on the farm supplying British retailers. Adrian
Ivory is our lunch venue - Adrian is a beef and arable farmer who works closely
with his retail supply partners and has pedigree Simmental and Charolais cattle.
The Mackie's dairy farm and food production business exudes
entrepreneurialism. From farming roots Mackies has become one of the most
successful businesses in north east Scotland employing 70 people. They produce
10 million litres of ice-cream, in twelve rich and delicious flavours,
exporting it as far afield as South Korea, the UEA and India. Mackies Crisps (potato
chips) are retailed in 20 countries, including Japan, UEA, China and the USA. The
cows are milked by robotic milking machines, they have invested in technology
to produce 90% of their own packaging on site and they are considering a biogas
plant. Even the cows are cutting edge with selection underway to breed for A2
milk, suitable for some lactose intolerant people.
I'm immensely proud of where we live, the team that we have and the stories
that we have to tell in 2014. I'm also eternally grateful to the sponsors and
supporters that are helping us and also to the host businesses giving up their
time to see us.
Thank-you to our principal sponsors: Massey Ferguson, Perkins and Waitrose.
Thanks also to our partners Scottish Enterprise and SRUC. The in-kind support
that we have been promised has been astounding - our thanks to Aberdeen Angus
Society, Aberdeen City Council, Aberdeenshire Council, ABP, Aberdeen &
Northern Marts, Adrian Ivory, Highland Cattle Society, Mackies, Moray Council, Simmental
Cattle Society, Philip Benzie, Stagecoach and Taste of Grampian.