By Chris McCullough
Having returned from the IFAJ congress in Scotland with a full stomach and a notebook bursting with storylines, I am glad all my deadlines have been met and my hard work put to print in newspapers and magazines as well as online.
Even though the east of Scotland is not really a foreign land to us in Northern Ireland (both are thankfully STILL part of the United Kingdom!) it was interesting for me to document the differences in farming practices for my readers.
I am not so sure the congress theme of ‘Innovations from a small island’ was such an apt title as the Scots weren’t really doing anything so outstandingly different to any other agricultural nation in the world. However, it was eye opening to see the higher levels of income Scottish farmers can generate from their natural habitats. There have been many complaints from Scottish farmers (who do tend to complain more than they should!) and Scottish MEPs that the country should receive higher value subsidies out of Europe from the overall UK money pot. This whinging has led to many arguments between our great countries but thankfully, so far, they have cried to deaf ears.
For me, when witnessing the vast areas of land on the farms visited, I was mentally calculating out the value of that farm’s Single Farm Payment. It was therefore not a surprise to see the number of Land Rover Discoverys and Range Rovers parked in the yards, all bearing high value personalised number plates.
Yes, the land can be difficult to farm and the weather a hazard, but incomes were good. Not one farmer complained about current livestock and arable prices. They just wanted more!
Some of the highlights of my Highland Fling included the visit to Thainstone Market where an interview with the chief executive revealed the real differences in livestock prices there in Aberdeenshire compared to Northern Ireland, just a few miles away. Again, farmers parked along the ringside were not complaining.
The visits to Corskie Simmentals, Mackie’s of Scotland and the Tonley Aberdeen Angus herd were informative. However, the jury is still out on whether the Angus or Simmental beef offered to us weary journalists was better. The one that was offered with free booze to wash it down did score more highly by a number of the delegates who were relieved not to be dipping into their pockets after paying a wealthy sized congress fee! The respective tour leaders for Corskie and Tonley, Ken Fletcher and Eddie Gillanders will have to take an official survey to present to the two breed marketeers.
Rain does exist in Scotland, as it does in Northern Ireland, but in Scotland they simply turn excess water into whisky (spelled without the ‘e’ according to Eddie Gillanders!), or something that passes as whisky. Seems a fool proof method of making money and staying warm at the same time! Again the battle of which country produces the best whisky is ongoing!
Working hours during the congress heavily outnumbered sleeping hours thanks to an over packed schedule and having to bear a number of sponsors who were intent on getting their money’s worth in terms of speaking time! But that’s life being a journalist, you simply have to adapt to the situation you find yourself in to get the story!
Cheers Scotland! As they say there ‘Haste ye Back’ and I certainly did on a recent trip to Edinburgh.