At the end of June after my annual trip to the Highland Show, I headed straight up to Inverness, where we had an SAOS board meeting in the morning and a strategy afternoon in the afternoon. It was really good - we had the whole board there and, as always with SAOS, it was extremely interactive.
There were lots of people putting ideas in and lots of debate. We then had dinner that evening with the guys from Highland Grain, which is a coop that mostly handles spring barley, malting spring barley, and the next day, we went out to visit their site. Gary Catto, who is the chief executive at Highland Grain and a board member at SAOS took us around, gaving us a really comprehensive tour of the site. The coop was started in 1977 and, at that time, there were 10 farmers who all came together to start the coop with 4000 tonnes of storage between them. It has now grown to 75 member coops with 40,000 tonnes of drying and storage capacity. Nearly all of which is spring barley for the malting market of which about half I think goes to Glenmorangie whisky.
The unique microclimate around Inverness allows for really good growing conditions for spring barley. It's situated on the Black Isle just over the Kessock Bridge, beyond the Tore roundabout. On the Black Isle they can grow virtually anything like seed potatoes, some wheat predominantly, spring barley, a bit of rape – all in all a really, really productive area. Highland Grain collect from about 40 miles north of their site and about 40 miles south. It is a fantastic asset that the 75 businesses have benefited from for a long time now. It is a real success story and great demonstration of pooled resource, people coming together to have something that they couldn't have individually as a business. So I had a really enjoyable trip and send big thanks to Gary and his team and the farmers that own it for showing us how it all operates. I made it home late, but the five and a half hour drive down the A9 went pretty well. Hopefully I haven't lost my driving licence!!