“ There are very real challenges ahead” SAC Chairman Lord Jamie Lindsay told those attending the SAC AGM in Edinburgh, “but I believe SAC is in a good position to help the rural sector face them”.
Lord Jamie Lindsay,
SAC Board Chairman
Lord Lindsay said the SAC Board had approached the AGM with some optimism. The issue of food security was now higher on the political agenda while climate change was challenging the rural environment and economy. In that context SAC was well placed to play an even greater role in rural Scotland.
“However “, said Lord Lindsay “global economic turmoil now added a new level of uncertainty and risk and rural businesses are as vulnerable and uncertain as others. It is very difficult to assess exactly how this will impact on SAC, but I believe that the expertise which resides on the SAC Board will stand it in good stead to face those new challenges.”
In his report SAC Chief Executive and Principal Bill McKelvey presented what he described as a robust set of accounts which further improved the positive trend of the last few years. “ The business environment is going to be tough “ said Professor McKelvey,” however the progress made by SAC in the last year has enhanced SAC’s reputation in Education, Consultancy and Research.
According to Professor McKelvey “The recent achievement of Higher Education Institution status by SAC was more than a symbol. It recognised teaching quality, governance and disciplinary excellence. He said “It brought SAC firmly alongside other members of Universities Scotland and under the Scottish Funding Council umbrella, which offers significant opportunities for the future.”
Turning to other education initiatives Bill McKelvey reported on the progress of a new riverside campus at Ayr in partnership with the University of the West of Scotland and Ayr College. Amongst a series of new courses offered by SAC was Activity Tourism a course that reflects the changing rural marketplace.
The Consultancy Division continues to be a core of SAC’s business, offering assistance to farmers, land managers and rural businesses both within Scotland and beyond, including Eastern Europe. In 2007 nearly 50% of on-line IACS submissions were SAC assisted and SAC staff are presently very busy helping with applications under the Scotland Rural Development Programme. In addition to these more traditional activities Professor McKelvey drew attention to new services in energy management and carbon foot-printing at farm level, using SAC’s research into the entire food chain.
Much of SAC’s research is carried out in partnership. Developments at the Easter Bush Research Consortium, in conjunction with the University of Edinburgh Vet School, the Moredun and Roslin Research Institutes will draw together skills in animal and veterinary science. The work of EPIC, the Scottish Governments Centre of Excellence in Epidemiology is helping to inform those planning for possible outbreaks of diseases like FMD or Blue Tongue.
The provision of advice to policy makers is an increasingly important role for SAC which has specialists in many aspects of rural development policy as well as production disciplines. Professor McKelvey made special mention of “Farming’s Retreat from the Hills”, the report produced by SAC’s Rural Policy Centre which has formed the basis of recent debate over the future of Uplands across Britain. The Centre aims to become a key link between Government and the land-based industries and Professor McKelvey believed it can assist with the development of policy at national and local level.
“ Just now no one knows how things will develop” said Bill McKelvey “ we were facing a period of rising costs and more expensive food. Almost over night commodity prices have been cut and many more consumers will be seeking a low cost food option. Scotland’s food producers will need to adapt and SAC and it’s staff are here to help. None of us can afford to be complacent in the current climate”
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