Dispatches from Argyll and Bute
After a long transfer from Dumfries and Galloway and plenty of care taken due to snow, I arrived in Argyll and Bute for visits with the Local Authority and to a young farming household on Islay. The journey to Argyll and Bute reminded me - if I needed any reminding - of the ongoing road & ferry issues. This was reinforced by the geographical challenges and associated daily logistics/transport issues faced by individual households, communities and the local authority.
On Thursday 24th Feb I met and toured around multiple school food and educational sites with;
We visited a central production kitchen in Lochghilphead that serves approx. 11 small rural schools and early years sites, MAXIpups, an innovative, outdoor early years nursery, and the Lochghilphead Joint Campus (2-18) which has approx. 720 pupils across all sites.
Throughout the day, we discussed the Good Food Nation Bill in detail and a range of issues most pertinent to Argyll and Bute. These included:
After a smoother journey than expected, I landed on Islay on Thursday evening ready to visit, on Friday afternoon, Hazel and Alasdair Porter of East Carrabus Farm. Hazel and Alasdair have taken on running East Carrabus farm and in partnership with other members of the family the local butchers (AS Porter) in Bowmore. They are producing beef and lamb and Alasdair is also the island slaughter man, using the island abattoir on the Dunlossit Estate to slaughter his (and others) animals. They recently were awarded a small school food procurement contract by Argyll and Bute and currently they are supplying, and delivering, all red meat to Islay’s 6 schools (5 primary and 1 high school) with this contract provided much needed steady income especially through the winter months.
Spending time with Alastair and Hazel, young farmers who are passionately committed to their land, animals and Islay, gave me the chance to learn first-hand about how difficult farming is for . This was due to ongoing post-brexit uncertainty (and changes to farm subsidies), fluctuating prices for their meat, rising costs of inputs, the ongoing impact of COVID 19 on food service and hospitality (and thus demand for their products), loss of farms on the island (impacting the viability and survival of the abattoir, no dairy on Islay) and a lack of younger farmers looking to get into farming. These are all coming together in a perfect storm to make it almost impossible for farmers and business people like Alasdair and Hazel to manage cash flow from month to month, get trained workforce, replace equipment, make investment decisions especially with respect to farm and retail diversification and herd size, develop new skills (especially with respect to environmental and biodiversity management) and draw a sustainable living for their household.