John I Forbes & Partner

A Message from Lord Pickles and Lord Blunkett, followed by John I Forbes & Partner's best practice article

The ability to listen and learn from one another has always been vital in parliament, in business and in most aspects of daily life. But at this particular moment in time, as national and global events continue to reiterate, it is uncommonly crucial that we forge new channels of communication and reinforce existing ones. The following article from John I Forbes & Partner is an attempt to do just that. We would welcome your thoughts on this or any other Parliamentary Review article.

Blunkett signature Rt Hon The Lord David Blunkett
Pickles signature Rt Hon The Lord Eric Pickles

Highlighting best practice
Partner, John Forbes
Pea viners at work in
Angus, Scotland
John Forbes is one of four brothers who farm independently
in the northeast of Scotland. He established East Coast Viners
and East Coast Viners Grain with his brothers Graham and
Mike in 1969 and 1977 respectively. Over 40 years later, they
still work together and hold about ten per cent of the domestic
market in frozen peas and broad beans. John discusses his own
farming business, John I Forbes & Partner, and his role in ECV and
ECVG, and elaborates on the dangers that British agriculture faces.
My own farming business covers a total of 1,300 hectares owned, 175 hectares
rented and 750 hectares contract-farmed. We’re based 20 miles south of
Aberdeen, where the soils and climate mean that the potential to grow high-value
crops is limited; the relatively cool summers and low disease levels, however, suit
the seed potatoes, daffodils, peas and beans which form a key part of the rotation.
We even market our daffodil flowers worldwide through local co-operative
Grampian Growers.
In order to make the most of the cereals and grass which account for most of the
farm area, we also rear livestock. We have 2,800 outdoor breeding sows and 660
dairy cows; all progeny from the pig herd are finished, and we sell some 65,000
In recent years, we have also invested in renewable technology to further integrate
the business and provide future sustainability. Initially, a 500kW turbine was built in
2014, with a 400kW anaerobic digester added in 2016. The AD plant uses livestock
slurry and rye as its main feedstocks as it produces electricity and heat. The heat is
used to dry woodchip for use in the farm’s 50kW biomass boiler.
»Partner: John Forbes
»Established in 1975
»Based in Angus, Scotland
»Services: Independent pig,
dairy, cereal and vegetable
»No. of employees: 40, with
many more for ECV and ECVG
»John is one of the three owners
of East Coast Viners and East
Coast Viners Grain, alongside
operating his own farm
John I Forbes & Partner
East Coast Viners
A partnership between myself and
my two brothers, ECV grows 3,650
hectares of peas and broad beans on
owned and seasonally rented land.
We are dedicated to supplying the
frozen food sector, and to controlling
the entire process from buying seeds
through to packing the final product.
We currently supply around 10 per
cent of the UK market.
Initially, we utilised a third-party
freezing and processing plant in
Dundee. The future of the business
was hanging in the balance, however,
when the owner decided to close
the facility in 2005 as a result of
its distance from other significant
markets. After much planning, we
were thankfully able to partner with
the other major grower in the area and
purchase the facility, forming Dundee
Cold Stores in the process.
East Coast Viners Grain
Initially a way of increasing efficiency
by centralising my and my brothers’
grain handling facilities, ECVG
comprised a grain drier, dressing plant
and 24,000 tonnes of flat storage.
After catering for ourselves, we had
the capacity to provide a commercial
service to third parties. Alongside
offering flat storage, ECVG is now also
a grain trader and fertiliser supplier.
In order to make efficient use of
locally grown grain and feed, we
added a compounding plant in 1992
and increased our capacity for grain
to 50,000 tonnes in 1995. ECVG has
since grown to become a key player
in the Scottish animal feeds industry.
We also cater for a number of local
biomass projects, supplying woodchip
to customers throughout the area.
In 2001, the company was awarded
full accreditation of the all-important
UKASTA Feed Assurance Scheme.
Thisnational scheme has been
developed to help restore consumer
confidence in British livestock products.
The UFAS code of practice is based on
the principles of safe manufacturing,
full traceability and independent
monitoring underpinned by Hazard
Analysis Critical Control Points. It
defines a set of principles for the
production of safe animal foodstuffs
and covers the sourcing and analysis of
all feed ingredients.
Remaining competitive isn’t
Although we have the ability to
produce more energy, grid capacity
is unfortunately restricted. I would
personally like to see my farm
become more sustainable, but SSE
control the lines and are also the
biggest renewable energy producer –
something of a conflict of interest.
Another real challenge that’s
come to the fore is our perpetually
increasing cost base. The numbers
of pigs in this country are reducing,
and that, alongside consolidation
in the processing sector, has led to
both the loss of local outlets and
higher marketing costs. We also sell
all milk to Müller, who transport it
south for processing at a significant
additional cost to producers.
The wind turbine and
AD plant
ECVG has
grown to
become a key
player in the
animal feeds
Highlighting best practice
Thankfully,apartnership between
pig producers and Tulip Ltd has
recently seen a local processing facility
established which will handle 7,500
pigs a week, but this is still a notable
issue for the industry at a local level.
Our profitability has also been
threatened thanks to the wildly
differing interpretation of EU rules in
Scotland and England. Historically,
the area of peas and beans grown
by a farmer counted towards their
environmental commitments. In 2016,
however, this changed in Scotland
alone, making them a far less attractive
crop for farmers. Consequently, my
brothers and I began paying far more
to rent land than our competitors in the
south. Such differences in regulation
between areas must be minimised if
we are to remain competitive.
A lack of educated
agricultural labour
Perhaps the greatest asset of the
agriculture industry is its people. The
longstanding tradition of agricultural
research, innovation and teaching
that Scotland is renowned for is sadly
being lost year by year. Agricultural
education at university level in the
country is less available than ever
before, with Scotland’s Rural College
now operating as the only provider.
This has come as a result of college
teaching becoming centralised, which
makes vocational education for fields
such as agriculture far less accessible.
I employ over 40 full-time staff with
many more on a casual and seasonal
basis. Sourcing staff has become more
difficult over the years, and there
has been a demonstrable fall in the
number of local people, resulting in
increased demand for migrant labour.
With Brexit on the horizon, we are
finding it more difficult than ever to
expand the workforce as we need to.
This is a huge threat to the labour-
intensive fruit and vegetable sector,
but also to businesses like mine which
employ skilled migrant labour in other
roles. To combat the recruitment issues
currently plaguing the agriculture
industry, I try to recruit young people
and train them in-house wherever
possible, in spite of the high cost of
doing so.
For the good of my farm, ECV and
the Scottish agriculture industry more
widely, I sincerely hope that my efforts
are not in vain, and that others begin
following suit.
tradition of
and teaching
that Scotland
is renowned
for is sadly
being lost
The lack of pickers could
lead to these daffodils
being wasted

This article was sponsored by John I Forbes & Partner. The Parliamentary Review is wholly funded by the representatives who write for it. The publication in which this article originally appeared contained the following foreword from The Rt Hon Theresa May MP.

The Rt Hon Theresa May MP's Foreword For The Parliamentary Review

By The Rt Hon Theresa May MP

This foreword from the then Prime Minister appeared in the 2018/19 Parliamentary Review.

British politics provides ample material for analysis in the pages of The Parliamentary Review. For Her Majesty’s Government, our task in the year ahead is clear: to achieve the best Brexit deal for Britain and to carry on our work to build a more prosperous and united country – one that truly works for everyone. 

The right Brexit deal will not be sufficient on its own to secure a more prosperous future for Britain. We also need to ensure that our economy is ready for what tomorrow will bring. Our Modern Industrial Strategy is our plan to do that. It means Government stepping up to secure the foundations of our productivity: providing an education system that delivers the skills our economy needs, improving school standards and transforming technical education; delivering infrastructure for growth; ensuring people have the homes they need in the places they want to live. It is all about taking action for the long-term that will pay dividends in the future.

But it also goes beyond that. Government, the private sector and academia working together as strategic partners achieve far more than we could separately. That is why we have set an ambitious goal of lifting UK public and private research and development investment to 2.4 per cent of GDP by 2027. It is why we are developing four Grand Challenges, the big drivers of social and economic change in the world today: harnessing artificial intelligence and the data revolution; leading in changes to the future of mobility; meeting the challenges of our ageing society; and driving ahead the revolution in clean growth. By focusing our efforts on making the most of these areas of enormous potential, we can develop new exports, grow new industries and create more good jobs in every part of our country.

Years of hard work and sacrifice from the British people have got our deficit down by over three quarters. We are building on this success by taking a balanced approach to public spending. We are continuing to deal with our debts, so that our economy can remain strong and we can protect people’s jobs, and at the same time we are investing in vital public services, like our NHS. We have set out plans to increase NHS funding annually by an average by 3.4 percent in real terms: that is £394 million a week more. In return, the NHS will produce a ten-year plan, led by doctors and nurses, to eliminate waste and improve patient care.

I believe that Britain can look to the future with confidence. We are leaving the EU and setting a new course for prosperity as a global trading nation. We have a Modern Industrial Strategy that is strengthening the foundations of our economy and helping us to seize the opportunities of the future. We are investing in the public services we all rely on and helping them to grow and improve. Building on our country’s great strengths – our world-class universities and researchers, our excellent services sector, our cutting edge manufacturers, our vibrant creative industries, our dedicated public servants – we can look towards a new decade that is ripe with possibility. The government I lead is doing all it can to make that brighter future a reality for everyone in our country. 

British politics provides ample material for analysis in the pages of The Parliamentary Review 
The Rt Hon Theresa May MP
Prime Minister