Headline insights from the Royal Highland Show

The theme of our breakfast briefing at this year's Royal Highland Show was ‘Rebalancing Scottish Agriculture’. Here we share the key takeaways focusing on navigating food security and environmental demands, while remaining financially sound and sustainable.

11th July 2022

Shepherd and Wedderburn was delighted to attend the Royal Highland Show after a sorely missed absence over the last two years. It was fantastic to see so many familiar faces throughout the event, and particularly on the Friday at our full capacity breakfast briefing, co-hosted with Bidwells. For those not in attendance, we would like to share the following headline insights and key takeaways.

The theme of this year’s briefing was ‘Rebalancing Scottish Agriculture’, where we discussed the challenges placed on farmers, crofters, and land managers as they aim to navigate food security and environmental demands, while remaining financially sound and sustainable. 

Royal Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland President, Ewan MacDonald, kicked things off by celebrating the Royal Highland Show’s 200th anniversary and highlighting its greater than ever popularity, with 50,000 tickets sold for both the Saturday and Sunday. 

Next, our keynote speaker Màiri McAllan, Scottish Minister for Environment, Biodiversity and Land Reform, outlined Scottish Government policies attempting to address the current pressures placed on farmers and crofters. In particular, Màiri spoke of the ongoing National Test Programme, a scheme which uses testing so farmers can gain a baseline knowledge of their climate performance, and also the upcoming reforms to Scotland’s agricultural payment scheme to make payments partially conditional on environmental performance. The minister encouraged all those affected to take part in the ongoing consultation.  

Martin Kennedy, President of the National Farmers Union of Scotland, delivered a passionate, knowledgeable speech on the difficulties facing farmers at present as they aim to balance the demands of government environmental policy, the demands of buyers, and their own bottom line. Martin highlighted the pressures created by the simultaneous concerns over food security, labour shortages, and the rises in the “three F’s” of food, fertiliser and fuel. Each of these having been made all the more pressing by the conflict in Ukraine. Martin also cautioned politicians of the potential unforeseen consequences of meeting food demand by simply importing crops from abroad. 

John Stirling, Co-Founder of Angus-based Arbikie Distillery, one of Scotland’s most exciting experimental distilleries, then offered his insight into the methods available to businesses to incorporate sustainability into their production models. Arbikie’s Nàdar collection comprises the world’s first climate positive spirits, which use peas in their production to capture nitrogen, thus improving local water, air, and soil quality. Moreover, the leftover ‘pot ale’ from the production is used to feed cows in the local area, which reduces dependence on imported soy as a source of feed. John made the business case for sustainability, noting that consumers are increasingly concerned with what’s gone on at farm-level.

Lastly, Finlay Clark, Deputy Senior Partner at Bidwells, delivered a rousing speech on the importance of tackling the climate emergency urgently, by properly managing Scotland’s natural resources. Despite noting our country’s relatively small size, Finlay talked up Scotland’s potential to play a big part in tackling climate change by enhancing biodiversity and leading the way by producing our world-beating produce in a sustainable way. Finlay also highlighted the staggering increase of Scottish land values in the past 24 months, being driven by woodland expansion, peatland protection drives, and carbon capture schemes. 

The session concluded with a question and answer session. The same core concerns appeared to be at the forefront of everyone’s mind: ensuring food security, the consequences of carbon capture schemes, and climate change. Clearly, addressing these big issues will be of the upmost importance in the coming years, and the session featured much passionate discussion and varied insights. Thank you to all who joined us for what was a great event.  We look forward to seeing you in 2023.