Chair of HIE, Alistair Dodds with Project Manager for Taste of Orkney, Kerry Leask

Stuart Black, HIE’s Chief Executive reflects on his recent visit to the Royal Highland Show and highlights the importance of the new collaboration with SRUC.  
Last month (Fri 21 June), I joined the Chair of HIE, Alistair Dodds on a visit to the Royal Highland Show at Ingliston near Edinburgh. Running for over 200 years, it is Scotland’s biggest outdoor event and is regarded as one of Europe’s best agri-business shows, attracting a record-breaking 217,000 people this year.  

I had the pleasure of talking to some of the stallholders as I went round the showground. The exhibition featured food and drink companies from across the Highlands and Islands, including Dunnet Bay Distillers, Great Glen Charcuterie and Isle of Barra Distillers.  
Kerry Leask, the newly appointed project manager at Taste of Orkney met with us and discussed how the membership organisation represents the islands’ leading food and drink producers.  
Everyone at the show, including the farmers, land managers or those in agri-business, plays a fundamental role in creating the excellent and world-renowned produce that contributes to the Highlands and Islands’ brand and reputation. 
Alistair and I joined a reception hosted by NatureScot, centred around farming and nature. During the event, we had the opportunity to hear from the NatureScot Chair Colin Galbraith and engage with other professionals from the agriculture, food and drink and land management industry. 
The show featured impressive demonstrations of cutting-edge innovations, including those that enhance environmental sustainability, champion best practices and ensure safety and comfort. These innovations are crucial for the future of our food and drink industry. 
Our next engagement involved a meeting with Professor Wayne Powell, Principal and Chief Executive of SRUC, where we explored our partnership centred around land and sea-based innovation. The five-year agreement between SRUC and HIE will play a major role in contributing to regional economic growth. 
We want to embrace opportunities for food and drink, aquaculture, life science and marine biotechnology in the Highlands and Islands as part of this partnership. Therefore, we’re looking forward to hosting the A3 Scotland 2024 conference in Inverness in September that will bring together innovators in aquaculture, animal health and agritech from across the world. More collaborative activity is being planned and we look forward to the next five years to make our joint ambition a reality.
The SRUC pavilion showcased the cutting-edge Rural and Veterinary Innovation Centre (RAVIC) based next door to us in Inverness, where Dr. Adam Giangreco leads as the Head of Business Development.  
We then caught up with Alistair Trail who delivers part of HIE’s NIH Food and Drink Tech Hub. He provided valuable insights into the 18 regional businesses that received personalised advice on food and drink product development.  
Later in the afternoon, I met with Caroline Millar of Scottish Agri tourism which promotes tourism involving on-farm and croft activities. Following the show, I was able to join a group of agri tourism business at Black Isle Berries at Tore to hear about the opportunities and challenges they face.

I also joined the Science and Industry Tackling Net Zero Together reception to celebrate the innovative ways that science is collaborating with the Scottish food and drink industry to help its journey to net zero.
Lastly, we arrived at the Scottish Government’s Marquee to hear from Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Land Reform and Islands, Mairi Gougeon. She highlighted her commitment to maintaining high-quality food production while addressing the climate emergency, which directly impacts food production.  

Our visit to the Royal Highland Show was inspiring and highlighted the ongoing importance of the sector for our region. Whilst there are many new industries crofting and farming are at the heart of what makes the Highlands and Islands such a special place.  

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