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Farming Food and Drink All One

In this edition of Farming North, I was hoping to report that Brexit had finally happened, and we could all now move on with some idea of what the future might hold … But instead we now face a General Election in mid- December and who knows what after that?

So, are we really any further forward than last time I wrote this column?

Not really is the answer, but a General Election does what it says on the tin … It’s not just about Brexit, although that will no doubt feature at the top of the agenda, but along with a host of other issues, is it a chance to lift the food and drink industry from the bottom of the debate to where it rightly belongs at the top?

I use the words Food and Drink Industry in preference to Farming or Agriculture because I believe there should be no difference and it is high time that Farming and Fishing became seamlessly joined to Food and Drink with no distinction between the two.

Our own organisation, Farmer Jones Academy (FJA) were recently invited as guests of Western Isles Council to go to Stornoway and jointly explore and share best practice in delivery of training to the next generation of food and drink students. But just before we left the mainland, a conversation with someone who should have known better, clearly exposed the huge gap that some see between farmers and the rest of the food and drink industry.

I was told that I had no real experience in the food and drink industry! I was also told that my experience and knowledge of food and drink came from the wrong side of the fence and that I needed to understand how things worked after the farm gate!

I was shocked and upset that after a lifetime of producing milk, wheat, malting barley and beef, that apparently I had no knowledge of what happened after the farmgate … I pointed out that farmers are well used to producing food to a specification that buyers need, and that the links between farm and fork have never been closer. As a milk producer, I would get regular visits from my buyer to make sure that quality and animal welfare was what they specified and that milk was a finished product when it left the farm … but to no avail.

This particular person has a clear fixation that producers are not a part of the food and drink industry!

This whole “conversation” made me realise that we have to stop talking about farming and food and drink in separate sentences and make farmers seamlessly become a part of the food and drink industry. That is the only way that eventually farming will become sustainable and not reliant on being propped up by taxpayers.

A lot has been achieved by the likes of Red Tractor Assurance, Scotch Lamb, Scotch Beef and Specially Selected Pork as well as some of the advertising that the more enlightened supermarkets put on TV, Radio, newspapers and Social Media.                                                                                                                        

The supermarkets who advertise that they source locally and work in partnership with their suppliers are the ones who are moving up the league table and others should take note!

However, back to our trip and as we went around the Western Isles, we met some really inspiring food and drink producers and most of them simply saw themselves as a part of the whole food chain from start to finish. From Seaweed to Salmon and Gin to Beer, I can report that the entrepreneurial spirit on Lewis and Harris at least, is not only alive and kicking, but positively thriving!

I know at FJA we use the phrases “Farm to Fork” and “Seed to Sale” and

It’s high time the entire food and drink industry stops seeing and thinking of farming and fishing separately and we all become one seamless industry.