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Prospects for North East Scotland’s land-based industries outlined in report

Farm in North East Scotland (c) James Hutton Institute
“We hope that the detailed information in the report will provide a useful resource and support the development of more resilient land-based industries.

Is the land-based sector in North East Scotland resilient enough to face future challenges? This question, along with many others, is at the centre of a report commissioned by the North East Scotland Agricultural Advisory Group (NESAAG) and launched this week at Thainstone Agricultural Centre.

The study, featuring research by the James Hutton Institute social scientists, was supported by Aberdeenshire Council, Angus Council, Moray Council, Scottish Enterprise, Highlands and Islands Enterprise – Moray, and Forestry Commission Scotland. It covers the local authority areas of Aberdeenshire, Angus and Moray focusing on the period 2007 to 2014, and building on a series of previous reviews of agriculture in Aberdeenshire, the last covering the period 2003 to 2007.

The report identifies major challenges and opportunities for the land-based sector in the North East, considering the influence of agriculture, farm woodlands, farm diversification, renewable energy, the input supply and processing sectors, skills and education infrastructure and the wider rural economy.

NESAAG chairman and Aberdeenshire councillor Bill Howatson said: “Agriculture and the ancilliary industries are vital to the prosperity and sustainability of our rural communities. We disregard them at our peril, whether economically, culturally or intellectually.

“I am delighted that NESAAG has been able to commission this study with support from partner organisations which collectively reflect the wide interest in, and commitment to this part of rural Scotland.

“I believe the report makes a thoughtful contribution to progressing one of our great indigenous industries at a difficult time.  The land-based sectors have tremendous potential to contributors to the regional economies of the North East.”

Peter Cook, who led the study team, added: “Previous studies tended to show a high degree of stability, but from 2007 onwards there has been much more change. With falling prices and further Common Agricultural Policy reform on the way, there is scope for even more radical developments to come.

“So one of the key aims of the study was to help create a vision for how the sector and the businesses within it can develop and grow in future, and how they can be helped to realise their potential.”

Dr Jonathan Hopkins, a researcher in the Social, Economic and Geographical Sciences group of the James Hutton Institute and member of the study team, commented: “It has been a pleasure to be involved in this research which shows how varied the North East of Scotland is; although we have found some more consistent trends, including a decline in farm occupiers and reduced livestock.

“We hope that the detailed information in the report will provide a useful resource and support the development of more resilient land-based industries.”

The study is available for download from the Aberdeenshire Council website. NESAAG is a cross-sector partnership drawn from public and private sectors comprising 4 local authorities, Scottish Enterprise, HIE Moray, agriculture, forestry, tourism, food safety and environment agencies, academia, advisory and business representatives.

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The James Hutton Research Institute is the result of the merger in April 2011 of MLURI and SCRI. This merger formed a new powerhouse for research into food, land use, and climate change.