Rural Innovation Support Service (RISS) Groups 2019

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Groups 2019/20

“The best ideas in farming come from farmers themselves.� David Michie, RISS lead Soil Association Scotland


Cover and inside cover photos from Dan Baillie

RISS: GETTING THE RIGHT PEOPLE TOGETHER Scotland’s Rural Innovation Support Service (RISS) provides professional support to farmers interested in trying new things. It connects them with the right people and helps them develop a viable project. Part of the Scottish Rural Network, RISS is led by Soil Association Scotland in partnership with the Scottish Agricultural Organisation Society (SAOS), SAC Consulting (part of Scotland’s Rural College), Scotland Food and Drink and Innovative Farmers.

Farmers know what’s right, or what might be right, for their business, but they often don’t have access to the right people to make their idea happen, capacity to try something new and fail, or time to bring a project together. RISS steps into that gap. The farmer, land manager or crofter may be part of an existing group or come to us with a new idea. We allocate a facilitator from our partner organisations – someone who knows the subject, who organises meetings, brings in the right people, keeps things on track and researches how people in other places have met similar challenges. Innovation doesn’t just mean lots of money and technology. It means people working together, testing ideas to get to the heart of

the problem and going through a process to find feasible, sustainable solutions. RISS groups so far have been working along the supply chain to produce oilseed rape as animal protein, for example, or to get more Scottish vegetables into schools. On-farm trials are happening on the west coast in conjunction with a soil scientist. A large-scale breeding programme is getting going across three grass-based dairy farms in the south-west under the eye of a genetic scientist. We hope you enjoy reading about some of the exciting projects the RISS groups are working on. - The RISS central team at Soil Association Scotland 2





Fodder Beet in Scotland


Adding Value to Estate Game


From Wood to Winter Bedding


Alternative Sheep Housing




Beef Cow Stars



Better Hill Sheep Farms


Gluten-Free Oat Quality and Traceability

Clyde Valley Waders


Grazing Winter Cereals with Sheep


Cow with Calf Dairy Project


Hennovation Scotland


Dehydrated Vegetable Development


Industrial Hemp for Biomass and Oil


Farm Hydrogen


Fighting Liver Fluke Sustainably

Johne’s Disease: Analysing Farmers’ Behaviour



Local Authority Vegetable Supply Chain


Mobile Abattoir in Scotland


Scottish Land Matching Service


Organic Rapeseed Supply Chain (Protein)


Scottish PRRS Elimination Project


PolyProduce Project


Scottish Sugar Beets


PCN Project


Skye Mutton Project


PCN Chitin Biocontrol



Recycling Plastic Farm Waste


Speeding up Dairy Cattle Breeding

Rural Skills Training


Standard for Livestock Mineral Supplements


Rural Workers Co-op Group


Tea Scotland


Scottish Cold Pressed Rapeseed Oil


Virtual Fencing and Tracking for Hill Cows


Scottish Commercial Apple Production



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Project stage: Ongoing Location: Aberdeenshire

Project stage: Ongoing Location: Ayrshire, Renfrewshire

This group brought together estates in Aberdeenshire and supply chain businesses to explore the idea of approaching shot game as a market opportunity rather than as vermin or a sporting byproduct. It looked to capitalise on the increased focus on local food and food tourism, investigating the potential for collaborative brand and product development.

The benefits of housing sheep are well-recognised, but having adequate buildings and bedding can be a challenge. This group is investigating lower-cost alternatives which are not widely used in the UK.

Six estates are now working with a Fife-based processor to make game bird products such as pheasant pies, breasts and burgers.


Photo from Andy Buchanan Picture caption goes here

These include slatted systems using existing buildings, slatted outdoor yards, outdoor nonslatted yards, use of alternative bedding materials, extending the life of some older cattle buildings and low-cost buildings.


Project stage: Discontinued Location: Scotland The group wanted to better identify poorly performing cows for cull and identify the best heifers for future herd replacements. They wanted to then interpret herd data to validate performance against the estimated genetic potential of breeding bulls. They hoped to develop a strong, futureproofed breeding programme that supports resilient beef businesses through greater profit and performance consistency, within herds and across seasons. There is no capacity to continue the group activities for now.

Picture caption goes here



Photo from Mossfennan Farm




Project stage: Complete Location: Scotland and Northern Ireland

Project stage: Ongoing Location: Central/West Scotland

Project stage: Ongoing Location: Dumfries and Galloway

This group of farmers is working with RSPB Scotland in the Clyde Valley to learn more about what factors increase wading bird populations.

This group aims to scale up the cow-with-calf system developed by the Ethical Dairy at Rainton Farm, where calves are kept with their mothers until weaning. There is increasing public and industry interest in the animal welfare aspects of this model, plus the potential of its dairy/ beef cross breeds to produce rose veal. They have received ÂŁ60,000 from the Knowledge Transfer and Innovation fund (KTIF) to develop a pilot project over a year, working with several farms to address barriers, benchmark and measure outputs.

This pre-existing group of performance-recording hill farmers from across Scotland and Ireland, SRUC researchers and a veterinary clinician had been undecided on the best way to improve the profitability of hill farming. Through the RISS process, they decided to focus on marketing the benefits of hill sheep as breeding stock to other farmers. They have now recruited a marketing person to take their idea forward, under the name Maternal Sheep Group.

Wader monitoring in the Clyde Valley has focused on topography and geography, but this group aims to assess whether soil type, structure and pH can explain why birds seem to prefer particular fields and areas. They can then identify what needs to change in areas where wader populations are low.


DEHYDRATED VEGETABLE DEVELOPMENT Project stage: Ongoing Location: East Ayrshire, Fife, and across Scotland There are potential markets in pet and human snacks and in food manufacturing for using misshapen vegetables, but these are mostly served by imports, and most of this is freeze dried which is energy intensive. The group of vegetable farmers, a sustainable energy engineer and a snack producer aims to create a Scottish dehydration facility that uses sustainable energy to produce a Scottish product that will replace a proportion of these imports. They are currently looking for funding towards building the facilities.



Project stage: Ongoing Location: North-east of Scotland This group of farmers is investigating the feasibility of and opportunities for producing and using hydrogen as a fuel for farm machinery, as an energy storage option for those with on-farm renewables, and in the production of fertiliser. Hydrogen could play an important part in our future energy use as Scotland works towards net zero carbon emissions. These farmers will investigate current technology, collaborate with industry specialists to see how this could be workable at farm scale, and identify what support is needed for future trials. Photo from Dan Baillie





Project stage: Complete Location: Dumfries and Galloway

Project stage: Transferred Location: Dumfries and Galloway

Project stage: Complete Location: West coast of Scotland

This group of farmers and vets researched effective and sustainable ways of controlling liver fluke disease.

The RISS facilitator helped bring together a group of farmers, agronomists and researchers interested in maximising the potential of growing fodder beet in Scotland as livestock feed.

This group is exploring the potential of converting lowvalue farm woodland timber into woodchip and wood-fines for use as livestock winter bedding material.

After the group’s first meeting Quality Meat Scotland (QMS) decided to fund and run the group, including farm trials.

They received Scottish Government KTIF funding for four farms to trial different kinds of woodchip and for a soil scientist to test the effect of spreading mulch on soils.

The group concluded that a whole farm approach is needed, requiring forward planning, commitment, and a willingness to make changes. They highlighted that farms should not rely on animal treatments, but should consider measures such as planting trees in wet areas, better grazing management and slatted sheds.


See case study p. 33

Photo from Matthias Kremer



Project stage: Ongoing Location: Ayrshire A number of farmers who have been developing glamping pods on their farms are collaborating to jointly market glamping in Ayrshire. Since their initial discussions, the group has decided to broaden its focus to explore other regional marketing initiatives and the wider potential for agri-tourism in Ayrshire. The group timing fits well with other projects in development, such as a recent tourist initiative trying to mirror the success of the North Coast 500 by mapping out tourist trails across Ayrshire, Arran and Bute.




Project stage: Ongoing Location: North-east Scotland

Project stage: Ongoing Location: Angus/Perthshire

As there is currently no glutenfree assurance scheme for oats, this group is investigating the possibility of developing one. They are working with an Edinburghbased data company to use distributed ledger technology, or blockchain, to build a reliable system that assures traceability, provenance and quality. This would mean a shopper could scan a QR code and trace the oats back to their producer. In August 2019 they received Scottish Government KTIF funding to develop the platform.

This group of arable and livestock farmers is developing guidelines and tips for best practice when grazing winter cereals with sheep. Although not widely practiced at present, this used to be commonplace. The farmers are holding informal trials to see if cereals can extend the grazing season and reduce forage costs. Initial indications are positive.


HENNOVATION SCOTLAND Project stage: Discontinued Location: Scottish Borders This group aimed to find environmentally friendly and innovative ways of reducing injurious feather pecking in free range and organic laying hens. This abnormal foraging behaviour is usually a result of stress, where birds are not able to perform essential natural behaviours such as foraging and dust bathing. It is also related to breed. The group consisted of four laying hen producers, an egg packer and a researcher. There was no capacity to continue the group.


INDUSTRIAL HEMP FOR BIOMASS AND OIL Project stage: Ongoing Location: Aberdeenshire and across Scotland Hemp could potentially meet the demand for low-cost biomass fuel, as well as produce valuable oil and other innovative products such as construction materials and food ingredients. The group has so far brought together five farmers, the Rowett Institute, SRUC, a renewable energy company and a circular economy business. They are looking at agronomy, licensing requirements, sustainability, harvesting and processing, as well as key market opportunities.





Project stage: Ongoing Location: North-east Scotland

Project stage: Ongoing Location: Midlothian

Project stage: Complete Location: Fife, Perth, Aberdeenshire

Beef cattle farmers in Aberdeenshire are comparing farmer attitudes towards Johne’s Disease. They are investigating why there can be a huge difference in farmers’ mindsets when purchasing breeding animals.

This group of Food for Life Scotland representatives, fruit and vegetable wholesalers, local authority members, producers, processors, and supply chain specialists aims to increase the amount of Scottish vegetables being served in school meals.

The ultimate aim for the group is to persuade more pedigree bull breeders to aim for a higher Risk Level Status, and to persuade commercial buyers of bulls and heifers to seek the highest Risk Level Status when buying breeding animals.


They are identifying the barriers to procurement, processing and preparation of fresh vegetables in order to overcome them.

Many small-scale abattoirs have closed in mainland Scotland, and access to large facilities is not easy for small producers. This group has split into two, with a Fife group of farmers and a vet looking to gain access to a large, local abattoir by co-ordinating their livestock. In Aberdeenshire, a group of farmers is still exploring mobile solutions, working with a group in England who have a ‘pop up’ abattoir in the pipeline.




Project stage: Complete Location: North-east Scotland

Project stage: Ongoing Location: Northern Scotland and Outer Hebrides

This group brings together farmers with feed processor Norvite to grow oilseed rape organically and on a commercial scale, to shorten the protein feed supply chain. The group visited Sweden to learn from growers who are producing organic oilseed rape on a commercial scale, in similar environmental conditions to Scotland. The farmers here have planted the crop, and aim to work with an SRUC researcher to formalise the trials on three farms. See case study p. 34 Photo from Dan Baillie caption goes here 19 Picture

Improvements in polytunnel technology have made it possible to grow fruit and vegetables in the far north of Scotland. This group aims to create a local supply chain to bring this produce to market. So far the group has interested distributors, restaurant and shop managers and growers on Lewis and Harris and a smaller group will move forward with forming a supply structure all interested parties can feed into.


Project stage: Ongoing Location: Angus/East of Scotland This large group of seed growers, consultancy and academic organisations, precision agriculture companies and SASA (Science and Advice for Scottish Agriculture) is collaborating on a planned strategy to tackle the spread of PCN in Scotland. After an initial open meeting bringing together potato growers and industry experts, a smaller steering group will move forward to raise awareness among arable farmers and investigate mitigation measures, precision farming solutions, and potential new PCN tests.






Project stage: Ongoing Location: Angus/East of Scotland

Project stage: Complete Location: Aberdeenshire

Project stage: Ongoing Location: Ayrshire

Potato Cyst Nematode (PCN) threatens the Scottish potato industry. This group aims to undertake farm-level research to test whether compost high in chitin – a protein present in shellfish – can act as a nonchemical agent to decrease the level of PCN in potato and daffodil bulb fields.

Following the ban on burning farm plastic, this group of eight farmers explored options for reuse and recycling of farm plastics. The group consulted with the local council, recycling companies and biotech companies to reduce the quantity of single-use plastics, find markets for waste plastics, and assess the feasibility of biodegradable plastics and alternative ways to conserve forage. They learned about the complexity of this issue and were unable to find an innovative solution for now.

This group of farmers who employ staff, industry representatives (e.g. AHDB, NFUS), and local SGRPID representatives is assessing the need for more accessible and affordable practical rural skills training in Ayrshire.

Formed of farmers, co-ops, research and marketing organisations, the group aims to establish the potential for a Scottish-based composting facility using waste shells.

If they determine a need, the group will explore how to fund and develop a farmer-led training provider.




Project stage: Complete Location: South-west Scotland

Project stage: Ongoing Location: Scotland

This group initially aimed to establish a farmer-owned labour agency in south-west Scotland. Comprising farmers, Tarff Valley agricultural co-op and the South West Machinery Ring, the group quickly identified that the real issue behind the shortage of farm labour was the dearth of new entrants to farming and related training and career development.

This group of Scottish rapeseed oil producers aims to increase either the efficiency or quality of highend rapeseed oil production in Scotland and develop its market.

They accessed some Scottish Government pre-apprenticeship funding, and Tarff Valley will now attempt to develop training with partners such as Lantra and SRUC.


The group is looking into chemical composition and health, the impact of high heat cooking and the growing environment alongside academics from several Scottish institutions.

SCOTTISH APPLE PRODUCTION Project stage: Ongoing Location: Perth and Kinross Commercial apple orchards offer opportunities to reduce Scotland’s carbon footprint, diversify farming activities, and encourage new entrants. A group of farmers is working with Scottish Forestry and the Royal Botanic Gardens of Edinburgh to develop a plan around research, growing, carbon education, and commercialisation. They aim to help the apple sector in Scotland re-establish itself as a significant part of the Scottish food and drink industry.


SCOTTISH LAND MATCHING SERVICE Project stage: Complete Location: Scotland This group explored possible models for a Scottish land matching service to match farmers with available land. The facilitator brought together the NFUS, the Land Commission, SAYFC, land agents, SLE and National Forestry Estate tenants and helped them work towards a proposal. Scottish Government accepted the proposal and launched the service in October 2019 with former Head of Agricultural Policy Ian Davidson in the role of ‘honest broker’.

25 Photo from Matthias Kremer

SCOTTISH PRRS ELIMINATION PROJECT Project stage: Complete Location: Aberdeenshire, Morayshire and Angus RISS offered facilitation to a large industry group trying to find a strategy to tackle Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome (PRRS) – one of the costliest diseases in the pig sector. The facilitator helped the group identify a funded stream and secure £80,000 from the Scottish Government’s KTIF fund for a pilot programme in the Moray region. A Veterinary Investigation Officer from SRUC has since been appointed to co-ordinate the project.


SCOTTISH SUGAR BEETS Project stage: Ongoing Location: Scotland This group of growers, researchers, processors and industry members aims to re-establish a Scottish sugar beet industry. They believe growing sugar beet for livestock feed, chemicals, materials and fuels will help farmers diversify and that there is potential for a domestic sugar beet refinery. They will begin with farm trials.




Project stage: Complete Location: Isle of Skye

Project stage: Complete Location: South-west Scotland

This group explored the economic feasibility of developing mutton as an ingredient for island menus.

This group of grass-based dairy farmers is working to improve productivity by combining genetic testing with existing herd data, and then using reproductive technologies to speed up the time it takes to get the best cows back into the herd.

They held a successful dinner showcasing the meat in conjunction with tourist body Skye Connect, Three Chimneys restaurant and West Highland College. There is appetite to develop both production and consumption on Skye, and one plan is to form a co-op and employ a project coordinator to take things further.

Working with a genetic scientist, they received KTIF funding for the first stage: genomic ranking, and are still seeking funding for the full breeding programme. See case study p. 32 from Dan Baillie Picture Photo caption goes here 28

29 Photo from Andy Buchanan




Project stage: Complete Location: West Fife and Kinross

Project stage: Ongoing Location: Scotland

Project stage: Ongoing Location: Northern Scotland

This group of beef and sheep farmers wanted to develop a standard for mineral supplements to better navigate the information they receive from feed merchants.

Tea Scotland brings together a group of tea growers from across Scotland with a plant genetics expert and horticulture students from SRUC.

This group of hill farmers is investigating new technologies available to track and contain livestock.

The group evolved and joined with another local beef group and received KTIF funding to focus on metabolic profiling. They aim to use nutritional information to improve fertility in their suckler herds.

They will use Simple Sequence Repeats (SSR) and cluster analysis to identify genome markers in tea, in order to better understand the genetics of Scottish tea. They then plan to carry out trials to optimise tea growing, testing growing conditions such as soil and temperature to produce the best final product.

They are investigating which options are most cost effective and best suited to Scottish upland farming conditions. They may team up with a tech company. Ultimately they hope to show that this technology can improve the sustainability of extensive hill grazing.


GROUP STORIES “This type of project is what we need to become a robust, thriving industry.” Rory Christie, dairy farmer

31 Photo from Dan Baillie

SPEEDING UP DAIRY BREEDING “If we had a herd of the best cows, our worries would be over” The group brings together three grass-based dairy farmers in Dumfries and Galloway and North Ayrshire. They want to do something no other UK farmers are yet doing: combine their herd data with genetic testing to identify their best cows, then use IVF and embryo transfer to turn their poorer cows into better ones.

“We’ve tried various innovative practices to produce more for less, but it’s still not enough,” says Rory Christie of Dourie Farm, Port William. “There’s one thing left to try: if Cow A produces more than Cow B in the same system, the difference must be genetics. If we had a herd of the best cows, our worries would be over.

In doing this they will not only be increasing their profits. They will be combining sustainable agriculture with cutting edge reproductive technology, and creating a blueprint for genetic improvement that can be used across the dairy, and even beef and sheep industry.

“Through RISS we have gained a facilitator who is tasked with making our idea a reality. He has brought in a genetic scientist to help us create a breeding programme that will target not the bull genetics, as is usual, but the female – the dam.

“We plan to use genomic testing combined with herd data then reproductive technologies to eventually breed from only the best cows. If we are successful in targeting female genetics, we could create a step-chance across the livestock industry: a blueprint that could be copied. “This type of project is what we need to become a robust, thriving industry.” The other farmers involved in this project are Graham Armstrong of Kirvennie Farm and Charlie Russell of Glenapp Estate.


WOODCHIP BEDDING FOR LIVESTOCK Half the money for a better result? Four west-coast farmers are trialling different kinds of woodchip as an alternative to straw for livestock bedding, and will work with a scientist to assess its impact on soil. The group, co-ordinated by Fergus Younger of Scotland’s Agricultural Organisation Society (SAOS), has been awarded £30,000 of funding from the Scottish Government’s Knowledge Transfer and Innovation Fund (KTIF) to trial spruce sawdust, hardwood chip, spruce chip and mixed hardwood/ softwood chip with both sheep and cattle. Sheep and beef farmer Duncan


Macalister, of Glenbarr Farms, Kintyre, has been using sawdust instead of straw for five years, and says he is spending around half the money for a better result. “Straw costs £140–£200 a tonne and sawdust £78–80 a tonne. I used 125 tonnes of sawdust last year, so you do the maths! “The other good thing is sawdust is antiseptic, so we’ve seen better health in both the sheep and cattle. In the sawdust foot problems are dramatically reduced – we had hardly any at all. “The cattle stay cleaner too. We calved in sawdust last year and we’ll do it again – we had no issues

with navels. But what we don’t know is what it’s doing to my land, and that’s what we’re testing for. Information is everything!” Soil scientist Audrey Litterick of Earthcare Technical will conduct soil testing to assess the environmental impact of spreading the resulting woodchip and muck on fields. The other farmers involved are Rab Smith of Coillie farm, Islay, trialling woodchip from a local estate as bedding for sheep, Calum Leitch of Kilcreggan, Loch Awe, trialling hardwood chip with sheep and cattle, and John Filshie of Lyleston Farm, Cardross, who is trialling softwood/hardwood green chip with cattle.

INNOVATION IN ORGANIC LIVESTOCK FEED A local supply chain represents a huge opportunity for farmers Five organic farmers in north-east Scotland have launched a pilot project with a commercial feed processor to try and grow the UK’s first viable organic oil seed rape crop for the animal feed supply chain. Norvite spotted the need for local supply a couple of years ago and had been talking to organic farmers in the region about it, but it was the facilitation provided by RISS – in the form of Jim Booth, head of co-op development at the Scottish Agricultural Organisation Society (SAOS) – that helped get things off the ground. “They’d been talking for a while, so

it was great to be able to give them a bit of support and direction,” says Jim Booth. “This is really innovative stuff, bringing people together from along the whole supply chain for a common objective.” “At the moment we’re sourcing organic feed materials from as far away as China,” says David McClelland, technical director of Scottish feed manufacturer Norvite, “but we have a local market for it. If we can get a local supply it represents a huge opportunity for us and the farmers.” “I don’t know of anyone in the UK growing organic oil seed rape on

a commercial scale,” says Murray Cooper, of mixed organic farm Mains of Thornton near Inverurie. “It’s notoriously difficult to grow. But growing it ourselves would give us control, reduce our reliance on imported soya – sometimes of questionable origin – plus it will reduce our fuel footprint. And in Norvite we already have a processor.” Cooper is pursuing this project alongside Martin Birse of Pitgaveny Farms, Elgin, Gordon Whiteford of Lower Mill of Tynet Farm, Buckie, George Philip of Camphill School farm, Aberdeen, and Willie Mitchell of AA Carrots, Turriff.


PARTNERS Part of the Scottish Rural Network, RISS is led by Soil Association Scotland in partnership with the Scottish Agricultural Organisation Society (SAOS), SAC Consulting (part of Scotland’s Rural College), Scotland Food and Drink and Innovative Farmers.

FUNDERS Our funding comes from the European and Scottish Rural Development Programmes.

RISS group facilitators come from SAC Consulting, SAOS and Soil Association Scotland.

CONTACT US T: 0131 370 8146 E: W: @SoilAssocScot #farmerled Soil Association Scotland Charity No. SC039168 Company No. 409726