CEO celebrates year in office and brings forward business plan for NFU Scotland

As I approach my first full year in the role of CEO, I want to thank all members for the support you have given me during this time, as well as update you on some important work we have been doing to shape the work of the organisation over the coming years. 

When I wrote to you last July, I spoke about the enormous privilege it was to take up this role. As I’ve travelled the country over the past 12 months meeting members, I’ve heard first-hand about the many challenges facing the industry and the impact this is having on running your business, and this has further strengthened my resolve to support your endeavours. 

There’s no doubt that we continue to be at a critical time for Scottish agriculture as we seek to influence the Government’s future policy and long-term support, both of which will underpin our objective of a profitable and sustainable industry. Moreover, agriculture continues to face many other headwinds including stubbornly high input-costs, chronic labour shortages, and receiving a fair and consistent return from the market. 

Despite these challenges, I still firmly believe the industry has an exceptionally bright future. We produce the best food and drink anywhere in the world, to the highest standards, and demand for our produce remains high. Our farmers and crofters are the bedrock of our food and drink industry and the reputation for excellence that Scotland commands globally. This, of course, underpins our critical role as stewards of the land, the work you do day-in-day out to support nature recovery and biodiversity, whilst remaining the heartbeat of local communities. These attributes should give us optimism for the future. 

Across the Union, the team has been working tirelessly on many fronts to ensure your views are fully represented to Government and others and we will continue to do so robustly. I do, however, want to update you on an important bit of work we have been doing to help us identify the big issues we need to focus on across the organisation over the coming years to ensure we are delivering exceptional support to our members. 

I am now delighted to publish our new Business Strategy which sets out the big overarching priorities the organisation will pursue over the coming years to provide this support. The Strategy is focused on six key objectives and each one is critical in its own right. However, at its core are our members, who are and always will be the lifeblood of the organisation. As such, everything we do over the coming months and years will have our primary mission in mind: a profitable and sustainable future for our members.

We will of course continue to do what we do best to influence and shape public policy and over the past year we have had considerable success, particularly in respect of future agricultural policy, support, and the securing the retention of a number of vital schemes such as LFASS and the Beef Calf Scheme. But we will also have an increasing focus on the market and improving returns through more equitable supply chains. One of the ways we are doing this is through our re-established ShelfWatch initiative, which we have significantly bolstered to extend its reach and impact to ensure more Scottish product on Scottish shelves. 

For us to continue doing this work effectively, we need to focus more on our financial strength and the opportunities to raise more commercial revenue. Likewise, we need a laser focus on our staff team to ensure we nurture and retain the best talent both within the organisation and indeed across our member networks. Doing all this means we need to function as a highly professional and effective organisation, with robust governance processes. 

With our Business Strategy providing a roadmap over the next three years we equally need to focus on the short-term and the priorities we will pursue over the next 12 months to deliver our objectives. As such, our new Operating Plan 2024 lays out the specific priorities we will pursue this year. Our Plan, which is underpinned by a huge number of detailed actions, will help us focus on the things that are most important to members and which will have the biggest positive impact for the industry. Inevitably, we will need a degree of flexibility as we navigate a volatile political and economic environment, but we are in good shape to do so.

Our Business Strategy and Operating Plan have been greatly informed through the feedback I’ve received whilst travelling the country and through the formal Member Survey we recently undertook. I’m very grateful to those members who provided their views through the survey on a range of aspects, such as our member engagement, policy work, communications, and member benefits. 

Overall, I am encouraged by our members’ levels of satisfaction with the work we are doing on your behalf, led by our fantastic and dedicated Presidential team. Of course, we can always do better, and we will continually strive to do so in the months and years ahead. We have produced a short summary of the results from the Member Survey, and shared that with members. One of the specific things I’m committed to doing this year is providing you with more regular updates on the progress we are making against our Business Strategy and Operating Plan and, particularly, the successes we are achieving on your behalf. We have already started this through the recent publication of the ‘Quarter 1’ Report (see: ) which I hope you found helpful – we’ll publish these each quarter going forward along with other wider updates. 

The next 12 months promises to be eventful. Key pieces of legislation will be debated and agreed in the Scottish Parliament; the UK General Election could bring a new and renewed focus on food and farming; and we will have our own elections in February when the President’s tenure is complete. Before that, we will have our usual significance presence at the Royal Highland Show and indeed many of the regional shows where the Presidential team and I will be attending so please drop in and see us. 

All this and more will bring about change, but what won’t change is our steadfast commitment to our members and our team working tirelessly on your behalf. There’s never been a more important time to be united and we will be here to support you every step of the way. 

John Davidson, CEO NFU Scotland

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