Swimming against the tide

Scotland's number one food export continues to defy the choppy economic conditions, writes Scottish Salmon Producers' Organisation chief exec Scott Landsburgh.

Salmon INSETLast year was a good year for Scottish farmed salmon. Not only did our profile rise in world markets due to our winning the accolade of “best farmed fish in the world” at the European Seafood Exposition in Brussels in April, but we also enjoyed attaining the lofty height of becoming Scotland’s largest food export.

It hasn’t stopped there. The Scottish Government has just published production figures for 2010 which show our production rose by nearly 7% to a total of 154,164 tonnes.

In value terms, this is even more stunning; we grew in value by over 30% to nearly £540m at farm gate prices.

In today’s economic climate, not only are these statistics impressive, but they are also very welcome news in a bleak employment outlook.

Directly, we now employ over 2,100 people and it is important for their sakes that we continue to seek opportunities in export markets worldwide to ensure a sustainable future for our industry.

Our export reputation received a boost in early February when the First Minister announced a trade agreement with the Republic of China.  Since then, we have exported over £20m of high quality, premium Scottish farmed salmon to that country alone.

We are merely scratching the surface of that vast market and hope in the coming 12 months to send a delegation out to various trade shows in the Far East to demonstrate the qualities of our fabulous product.

My first experience of showcasing Scottish salmon this year was at the Gulf Food Show in Dubai in February.

This is a huge 4-day event where producers, wholesalers and buyers from Europe, the wider Middle East, Africa and the Indian sub-continent gather in five huge exhibition halls to view, negotiate and conclude contracts on a vast array of international food products.

Dubai is historically a trading port and it is this trading history (and low tax regime status) which has given them the edge in attracting so many traders to this show.  I led a delegation from three of our industry companies who, like me, benefited from the contacts established in advance by SDI.

The Dubai event was one of the highlights of our year. In fact, it went so well that we are sponsoring the event’s Culinary Competition, “Salon Culinaire” where all of the top young chefs of the Middle East compete for the title of Chef of the Year.  .

The Boston Seafood Show in March is the largest seafood show in North America.  It takes up most of the vast arena which is the Convention Centre in Boston harbour.

A strong delegation from Scotland made the journey, emphasising the point that the USA has become our number one export country.

We had a number of stands at the exhibition and also hosted a drinks reception at the impressive Court House building adjacent to the show.

Around one hundred people turned out to support our industry and to enjoy our product in various guises.

April saw us make the annual pilgrimage to ESE in Brussels. This is the largest seafood show in world.  SDI had done a fantastic job on the Scottish Pavilion, bedecked in saltires and photographs of stunning Scottish scenery – the one with the salmon farm particularly caught my eye!.

The summer months bought some respite from travel until the end of August, whereupon I found myself in the company of the King of Norway at the biannual Aquanor event.

This is an exhibition primarily for demonstrating the latest technology to be used in salmon farming.

It is staggering to see the scale of the Norwegian industry compared to ours; but it is worth noting that they are now following our production standards, most notably in area management, as they recognise we enjoy the best health status of any salmon farming country.

Finally, in September, I made the journey to the Anuga Food Fair in Cologne.  This boasts of being the largest food fair in the world and I have no reason to doubt this claim.

On the day I arrived, the crowds were so vast that it felt as if I had arrived at a major sporting event!  Again, the saltire was flying proudly over the QMS stand as I was introduced to Richard Lochhead, the Cabinet Secretary responsible for food, and later in the day to Jim Pace, the UK Minister for Agriculture and Food.

In all of these events, I sensed an awakening of the possibilities open to our food products in export markets. We are fortunate in being able to produce some of the world’s best quality, premium food.

Our problem in the salmon industry is that we don’t have enough production capacity to fulfil the international demand.

The Scottish Government is aware of this and is doing its best to help us attain our goal of producing 220,000 tonnes of salmon by 2020. In a difficult economic climate, salmon farming is one industry which has a hopeful tale to tell.

Scott Landsburgh is chief executive of Scottish Salmon Producers' Organisation

Read more on the Scottish Salmon Industry here.