Morrisons becomes a Scottish farmer
Supermarket creates new research farm
By Gordon Davidson
AS THE only major supermarket to bother turning up for the Scottish Government's dairy summit last month, Morrisons is already in the farming industry's good books, and at the Highland Show, it signalled that it very much intends to build on this farmer-friendly reputation.
The firm's chief executive Marc Bolland chose the event to announce a plan that actually justifies the tag of "groundbreaking" – Morrisons is to create its own livestock industry research and development farm on 700 acres of the Dumfries House estate in East Ayrshire.
In a joint venture with the Scottish Agricultural College, and in co-operation with the NFUS, the intention is that Dumfries House will soon become a trusted source of near market R and D, with an early emphasis on sustainable farming models using traditional livestock breeds, starting with foundation herds of Shorthorn and Aberdeen Angus.
"Farmers mean a lot to us," declared Mr Bolland. "Ken Morrison is a farmer himself and his understanding of farming is built in to our operation."
Morrisons, explained Mr Bolland, is the only major supermarket that buys its own livestock and processes it in-house – every other multiple retailer, he noted, ordered their meat as cuts, often packaged to a tight specification.
"We prefer to buy the whole crop," he said. "It is the same for carrots – we contract to buy a farmer's entire crop, ungraded, then sort it out ourselves. Everything gets used. If a carrot is imperfect, we sell it as such. We do not force waste onto the system."
The hope is that the Dumfries House project will become a "centre of excellence" based on similarly producer-orientated thinking, while driving forward efficiency that will benefit farmers and consumers alike. "We realise that we have a joint responsibility with the supply chain," added Mr Bolland, "that maybe does not happen as much as it should."
Cabinet Secretary Richard Lochhead warmly praised Morrisons for directing its considerable resources to R and D that would do more than just benefit itself: "This is a groundbreaking initiative and I very much look forward to seeing the outcome of this project.
"Personally, I'd also like to congratulate Marc for bringing a very refreshing approach to retailing in Scotland," added Mr Lochhead.
Speaking for the SAC, chief executive Professor Bill McKelvey said that the Dumfries House project would capitalise on the college's strengths, combining applied research and development with the transfer of knowledge and good practice.
"I believe the lessons learned on Morrisons Farm at Dumfries House can benefit many in the farming community in Scotland and across the UK," said Prof McKelvey.
Alongside its new Scottish farming venture, Morrisons is also moving to strengthen the lines of communication with its producers, launching a farm supply website where beef farmers can access their online carcase data, and a variety of farmer groups covering dairy, beef, poultry and eggs.