Current RISS groups

The best ideas in farming come from farmers themselves. Here you can see all the ground-breaking ideas that our RISS groups are working on.

To read the page turner booklet click here 

For more information on any of these projects, or to send us your own idea for a project, call or email Analy Hannah on 0131 666 2474 or ahannah@soilassociation.org.

Our RISS Groups

Adding Value to Estate Game

Project stage: Ongoing
Location: Aberdeenshire
Group coordinator: Ceri Ritch, SAC

This group is exploring opportunities to add value to game (mainly in feather) shot on Scottish estates. By approaching game as a market opportunity rather than as vermin or a sporting by-product, the group hopes to capitalise on the increased focus on local food and food tourism, investigating the potential for collaborative brand and product development.

The group has brought together estate managers, supply chain
businesses and Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH).

Learn more

Alternative Sheep Housing

Project stage: Ongoing
Location: Ayrshire, Renfrewshire
Group coordinator: Ceri Ritchie, SAC

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, such as:

  • slatted systems using existing buildings;
  • slatted outdoor yards;
  • outdoor non-slatted yards;
  • use of alternative bedding materials;
  • extending the life of some older cattle buildings for use by sheep; and
  • low-cost buildings.

The group is composed of farmers who would like to come up with published practical guidance based on their findings on these alternatives, which could be used by other farmers in Scotland.

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Beef Cow Stars

Project stage: Ongoing

Location: Scotland
Group coordinator: Robert Logan, SAC

The group wants to better identify poorly performing cows for cull
and identify the best heifers for future herd replacements. They
want to then interpret herd data to validate performance against
the estimated genetic potential of breeding bulls.

They hope to develop a strong, futureproofed breeding programme that supports resilient beef businesses through greater profit and performance consistency, within herds and across seasons.

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Better Hill Sheep Farms

Project stage: Complete
Location: Scotland and Northern Ireland
Group coordinator: Poppy Frater, SAC

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 have decided to focus on marketing the benefits of hill sheep as breeding stock to other farmers.

They are now recruiting a marketing person to take their idea forward.

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Cow with Calf Dairy Project

Project stage: Ongoing
Location: Dumfries and Galloway
Group coordinator: Colleen McCulloch, Soil Association Scotland

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.

The group will look at producing a viable model that can be transferred to other farms.

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Dehydrated Vegetable Development

Project stage: Ongoing
Location: Stirlingshire
Group coordinator: Paul Mayfield, SAC

This group is exploring innovative ways of using misshapen vegetables not suitable for retail, focusing on the potential to dehydrate them for use in various markets.

There are potential markets in pet snacks, human snacks and in food manufacturing, but these are currently mostly served by imports. This group will explore how to replace some of these imports with UK products, researching and analysing:

  • the best potential method of dehydrating vegetables, with an emphasis on using sustainable energy;
  • the requirements and potential of different markets for dehydrated vegetables; and
  • the production of a project plan to help seek and develop funding for the next stage of the project.

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Fighting Liver Fluke Sustainably

Project stage: Complete
Location: Dumfries and Galloway
Group coordinator: Heather Stevenson, SAC

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

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.

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Fodder Beet in Scotland

Project stage: Complete
Location: Scotland
Group coordinator: Kirsten Williams, SAC

This group wants to maximise the potential of growing fodder beet in Scotland.

The crop has recently increased in popularity with farmers looking for lower cost wintering systems. Fodder beet offers benefits including:

  • reduced costs associated with wintering livestock;
  • field-based and soil benefits; and
  • increased animal welfare. 

The group is now proceeding with small farm-based trials and virtual agronomy sessions, having received funding from Monitor Farm Scotland.

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From Wood to Winter Bedding

Project stage: Complete
Location: West coast of Scotland
Group coordinator: Fergus Younger, SAOS

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

They received funding from the Scottish Government’s Knowledge Transfer and Innovation Fund (KTIF) for four farms to trial different kinds of woodchip and for a soil scientist to test the effect of spreading mulch on soils.

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Gluten Free Oat Quality and Traceability

Project stage: Ongoing
Location: North-east Scotland
Group coordinator: Paul Mayfield, SAC

This group is in the process of installing dedicated gluten-free primary processing facilities in North-east Scotland.

As there is currently no gluten-free assurance scheme for oats, this group is investigating the possibility of developing one, along with a reliable system which assures traceability, provenance and quality. They are looking at blockchain technology as a way to make this happen.

The group has seen interest from Scottish food manufacturers wishing to buy their product to create a unique selling point and demonstrate a high degree of provenance.

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Grazing Winter Cereals with Sheep

Project stage: Ongoing
Location: Angus/Perthshire
Group coordinator: Zach Reilly, SAC

This group aims to develop guidelines and tips for best practice when grazing winter cereals with sheep. It is not something that is widely practiced at present, but it used to be commonplace. This group will look at how it can work, and pass on guidelines that can be used by others.

Farm trials are underway to see if cereals can extend the grazing season and reduce forage costs.

The benefits the group hope to see from this practice include:

  • increased gross margin per hectare as a result of producing cereals and lamb from the same field;
  • help in alleviating the shortage of winter forage for livestock;
  • the reversal of falling soil organic matter levels on arable farms by adding manure from grazing animals;
  • reduced reliance on chemicals, as reduced winter growth due to grazing lessens the need for plant growth regulator use; grazing may also alter the plant structure by helping it to develop a short canopy later in the season, which may reduce lodging; and
  • reducing the burden of winter disease as grazing may remove canopy density and therefore limit the spread of fungi.

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Hennovation Scotland

Project stage: Ongoing
Location: Scottish Borders
Group coordinator: Kate Still, Innovative Farmers

This group aims 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 consists of four laying hen producers, an egg packer and a researcher.

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Industrial Hemp for Biomass and Oil

Project stage: Ongoing
Location: Aberdeenshire and across Scotland
Group coordinator: George Noble, SAOS

This group is investigating the economic opportunities that Scottish-grown hemp could offer farmers and others in the supply chain.

It is believed that hemp could potentially meet the demand for low-cost biomass fuel, as well as producing valuable oil and other innovative added-value products.

The group has so far brought together five farmers, the Rowett Institute, SRUC, a renewable energy company and a circular economy business. Moving forward, they will look at agronomy, licensing requirements, sustainability, harvesting and processing, as well as key market opportunities.

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Land Matching Service

Project stage: Ongoing
Location: Scotland
Group coordinator: Stephen Young, SAOS

This group is exploring the potential for a land matching service for Scotland.

This service would provide a link between new entrants looking for land, and landowners looking to let land or enter into a joint venture or contract farming agreement. It would advise land owners on the best way to encourage a new entrant, and provide clear, unbiased advice for new entrants on how to enter the industry.

They are researching what other countries do, including exploring employing an ‘honest broker’.

Working with the NFUS, the Land Commission, SAYFC, land agents, SLE and National Forestry Estate tenants, this group aims to create a single service that each of these bodies could feed into.

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Mobile Abattoir in Scotland

Project stage: Ongoing
Location: Fife, Perth, Aberdeenshire and Caithness
Group coordinator: Fergus Younger, SAOS

Many small-scale abattoirs have closed in mainland Scotland, and access to new large facilities is not likely to be available for many small producers. This group is investigating the potential of a mobile abattoir and other approaches to local slaughter to solve the problem of slaughtering provision.

The project aims to learn from best practice from existing and planned facilities around the world. It aims to:

  • map out the need within Scotland;
  • bring interested parties together to ascertain the operational viability of a facility;
  • assess the best fit facility for different areas of Scotland; and
  • produce an outline feasibility and action plan to take the project forward.

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Organic Rapeseed Supply Chain

Project stage: Complete
Location: North-east Scotland
Group coordinator: Jim Booth, SAOS

This group brings together organic farmers with feed processor Norvite to grow organic oilseed rape on a commercial scale and produce protein for the animal feed industry.

Norvite currently sources organic protein from as far away as China.

A core group of four farmers have planted or will plant the crop, having learned from a study trip to Sweden, where it is grown on a large scale.

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PolyProduce Project

Project stage: Ongoing
Location: Northern Scotland and Outer Hebrides
Group coordinator: Calum Johnston, SAC

This group aims to expand the local food and drink economy through increased production in polytunnels and the development of a supply chain to take produce to market.

Shops in the Outer Hebrides currently rely almost entirely on imported produce. However, with improvements in polytunnel technology meaning that crops can now be grown locally, there is a real demand from crofters and consumers to develop local supply chains.

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Recycling Plastic Farm Waste

Project stage: Ongoing
Location: Aberdeenshire
Group coordinator: Ewan Johnston, SAC

As the ban on burning farm plastic comes into force in Scotland, this group aims to explore options for reuse and recycling of farm plastics.

The group will look at:

  • reducing the quantity of single-use plastics;
  • finding markets for waste plastics;
  • exploring the feasibility of biodegradable plastics and natural products; and
  • finding alternative ways to conserve forage.

In the long term, the group wants to identify alternatives to single-use plastic wrap, for example by investigating biodegradable plastics, natural products, or alternative ways to conserve forage.

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Rural Workers Co-op Group

Project stage: Ongoing
Location: South-west Scotland
Group coordinator: Stephen Young, SAOS

This group aims to establish a farmer-owned labour agency providing services to rural businesses in south-west Scotland.

Recruiting labour is an increasing problem for farmers, and this area is one of the most intensively farmed areas of Scotland.

The group will bring together the people and agencies required to make such a service possible. It will also investigate the potential for a crossover services between agriculture and other rural industries like tourism and forestry.

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Scottish Cold Pressed Rapeseed Oil

Project stage: Ongoing
Location: Scotland
Group coordinator: Alistair Trail, SAC

This group of Scottish rapeseed oil producers aims to identify the potential project areas that can increase either the efficiency or quality of rapeseed oil production in Scotland.

Production of high-end, cold-pressed rapeseed oil is a relatively new enterprise, but the group believes there is an opportunity to develop the market.

They are currently working through seven possible options and deciding where to focus their efforts.

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Scottish PRRS Elimination Project

Project stage: Ongoing
Location: Aberdeenshire, Morayshire and Angus
Group coordinator: Calum Johnston, SAC

This group aims to assess, plan and pilot Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome (PRRS) control across Scotland, with the intention of eventually eliminating PRRS in the Scottish pig sector.

PRRS is one of the costliest diseases in the pig industry, affecting the performance of breeding, growing and finishing herds. Controlling or eliminating the disease would lead to the following benefits:

  • increased sustainability in the Scottish pig industry by reducing mortality and increasing born alive and litters per sow per year;
  • improved animal health leading to greater production efficiencies and reduced costs;
  • a significant reduction in antibiotic use for control of secondary diseases;
  • a reduction in abattoir condemnations;
  • new and existing export markets including China and India; and
  • improved biosecurity, helping reduce risk and susceptibility to other diseases such as African Swine Fever.

This large group is made up of pig producers, pig veterinarians, pharmaceutical companies, pig specialists and industry organisations.

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Skye Mutton Project

Project stage: Complete
Location: Isle of Skye
Group coordinator: Jeanette Sutherland, SAC

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

They held a successful dinner event in conjunction with tourist body Skye Connect, Three Chimneys restaurant and West Highland College showcasing the meat, and felt there was appetite to develop both production and consumption on Skye.

Their project plan is to form a co-op and employ a project
co-ordinator to take things further.

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Speeding up Dairy Cattle Breeding

Project stage: Complete
Location: South-west Scotland
Group coordinator: Hamish Walls, SAOS

This group of grass-based dairy farmers is working to improve productivity by combining genetic testing with existing herd data, and subsequently using embryo transfer to get the best dam genetics back into the herd more quickly.

Working with a genetic scientist, they received Knowledge Transfer and Innovation (KTIF) funding for the first stage: genomic ranking.

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Standard for Livestock Mineral Supplements

Project stage: Ongoing
Location: West Fife and Kinross
Group coordinator: Karen Stewart, SAC

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.

But the group evolved and joined with another local beef group, and will now focus on metabolic profiling. Their aim is to use nutritional information to improve fertility in their suckler herds.

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Contact us about RISS

For more information on these projects, or to send us an idea for a new project, contact Analy on 0131 370 8146 or at ahannah@soilassociation.org
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