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Sharing Pride in Livestock Farming’s Role in Quality Food Production

Dennis Overton

Scottish livestock farmers deserve recognition as producers of top-quality food which has earned a global reputation, according to Dennis Overton, Chairman of Scotland Food and Drink.

Mr Overton, who is involved in hill farming in the West Highlands, said there were major opportunities ahead in terms of overseas demand for quality beef and lamb.

However, he emphasised that there are also challenges to be overcome, saying industry organisations like Scotland Food & Drink and Quality Meat Scotland (QMS), would be vital to driving the changes needed.

“Scotland produces some of the world’s finest pasture-fed livestock. We know there are markets are out there and people want to buy our beef and lamb but there is a lot of work to do to bring it all together in terms of quality, value, consistency and market development.”

Looking at the steps needed to take the industry forward, Mr Overton said there was a clear need to improve efficiency, while seeking ways to further improve on the quality of beef, lamb and pork suitable for the modern market.

He said, as well as collaboration, there was a need to improve soils and grassland management together with driving forward genetic improvement and adding value and always looking to improve the marketing of the finished product.

As well as being Chairman of Scotland Food and Drink, Mr Overton is also Chairman of Ardtornish Farms on the Morven peninsula in the West Highlands.

In the late 1980s he, and a business partner, started the aquaculture company, Aquascot. They farmed fish for the first 12 years then moved the focus of the business to product development, adding value to provide retail-ready produce, while at the same time building long-term agreements with several strategic farming partners.

Aquascot is now the largest employee-owned business in Scotland and Mr Overton’s now chairs the board of trustees. Based in Alness, it employs 180 people from the local community and has supplied seafood products to employee-owned retailer Waitrose, since 1993.

Mr Overton pointed out that Scotland Food and Drink played an important part in allowing Aquascot to develop by providing opportunities for employees to learn faster through Skills Development Scotland, whether it be business leadership courses or teaching innovative technical and processing skills.

Scotland Food and Drink also helped on the marketing side and Mr Overton said one of the keys to Aquascot’s success has been successful collaboration within the aquaculture industry thanks to the over-arching strategy which the organisation put in place.

The Scotland Food and Drink story has been a highly successful one. Since forming in 2007, food and drink has become one of Scotland’s most important economic sectors. The sector grew 44 per cent between 2007 and 2017 and is worth £14 billion to the Scottish economy.

This progress shows the industry’s capacity to innovate and grow, and the organisation has ambitious plans to build on that.  Scotland Food and Drink’s “Ambition 2030” aims to cement food and drink as Scotland’s most valuable industry, doubling turnover in the sector to reach £30 billion by 2030.

Mr Overton added: “The significant opportunity is to grow our markets, both home and abroad, and the driver is to become the most innovative sector in the way we farm, fish and process food and drink.

“It is important however that this growth does not come at any cost. It must be growth with responsibility, and by that I mean impacting responsibly on the environment and climate as well as the health and well-being of the people of Scotland.”

Mr Overton highlighted that another key priority for Ambition 2030 is developing the skills sector. He said: “We must create an attractive and supportive environment for people to work as either employees or entrepreneurs. Productivity and innovation within Scottish food and drink has been better than in the rest of the UK and we must continue that trend so inspiring the next generation to get involved.”

He is pleased that a growing number of primary producers are engaging with Scotland Food and Drink, among them QMS members, and he believes that the red meat sector can benefit from forming closer links with other organisations in the food chain.