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Scottish farmers get their local supply network humming

Be the change you want in the world  . . . but be worldly too

Self-improvement experts will tell you that “you must be the change you see in the world”.  They are right.  But there is another view too.

Developed economies are so complicated that you cannot get anything done unless something else happens, often one or two steps away.

Some people shrug and go into a tail spin of mild depression.  Others set about organising their “supply networks” or “collaborative supply chains”.  They not only take responsibility for what they do themselves; they hold up a market opportunity for all to see and help a network of actors to understand all the points where they need to cooperate.

  • They hold up a real and significant market opportunity.
  • They shine a spotlight on the critical junction points in the supply network.

Farmers in the tippy-top of Scotland go upmarket and boost their local economy by quarter of a million

In this post, I’m going to summarize the triumph of Scottish beef and sheep farmers from the very tip of Scotland who, in one year of enhanced cooperation, gained an extra 10p or kilo or £37 per cow and £3 per lamb more than their peers serving the standard market and brought in an extra quarter of million additional pounds to the remote rural economy.

This is the story of Northern Highland Products, beef and lamb farmers in Caithness in Scotland and an Irish butcher who came to join them in bid to deliver premium meat to the British supermarket chain Sainsbury’s.

  • Northern Highland Products only wholesales quality products within 100 miles of the Castle of Mey.  Beef and lamb are their core lines and they also carry fish, honey, jam, cheese and pork.
  • The Northern Highlands has a strong history of livestock production on small farms.
  • The initial funding for setting up the Northern Highlands Products project in 2005 was a £71 000 grant from the Scottish Executive under its Marketing Development Scheme, some contributions by an initial group of farmers, an on-going levy on producers, and contributions from Caithness Enterprises and the Nuclear Decommissioning Agency.
  • Information from farmers is combined to forecast and manage supply and demand.
  • Delivery and price information is also pooled so farmers can benchmark their output against the average.
  • Mey Selections only buys livestock reared on Caithness grass and does not buy bulls.  Prices vary by quality of the carcass and track the general market but above the average.
  • Farmers have access to information (including organized training) about the whole supply chain so they understand how and why carcass classification ripples through to costs in processing.
  • Mey Selections sponsors a Producers’ Club to help producers share information among themselves.
  • Animals are slaughtered at one of three abattoirs to minimize travel and stress to live animals.
  • Mey Selections offer training to Sainsbury’s staff.

 

General principles about collaborative supply chains and supply networks

I could draw out some general principles about collaborative supply chains and supply networks but in business, general principles often feel like the “tail wagging the dog.”

Business is not a spectator sport and we have to deal with the real and immediate in the same way as shepherd still has to traipse the hills to find a lost lamb in inclement weather.   Do it now, or not at all.

Supply chains work when we have real opportunities that we want to exploit and sufficient knowledge of our industry to see what has to happen. Then we can exercise the leadership to shine a light on

  • The opportunity
  • The critical linkages.

Until we have that real-world knowledge and business-in-action, then we are simply apprentices in our trade and we should do what needs doing now – which is get some hands-on experience.

This post summarizes the information on the supply chain of Caithness farmers in the northern tip of Scotland and how improved collaboration and disciplined attention to what they do well locally led, in a single year, to an increase of a quarter of a million pounds into their combined businesses.

Don’t wait.  Be the change you want to see in the world.  But be worldly and organize what is already working and do it better by focusing on real opportunities and real tasks that need doing!

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