Livestock producers in the Caithness and Sutherland region who joined the North Highland Products Company at its inception last July are already receiving better prices for their product.

The company is a flagship project for the North Highland Initiative, set up and part-funded by Prince Charles to stimulate the regional economy.

With produce sold under the Mey Selections brand, farmers earned premium payments of over £60,000 in trading to the end of 2005.

That trend has continued and Prince Charles referred to it in a speech promoting his North Highland Initiative.

“A year on from its launch North Highland Products has reported a turnover of over £2m since it began trading and this is, I think, the most encouraging thing – an additional £150,000 going straight to the 150 or so farmer members,” he said.

NHP has consistently traded more than100 cattle a week and, at peak, more than 375 lambs.

In real terms, during the period in question, 2700 cattle made a premium over the Scottish average of £102,000 – typically, £37 a head – and 12,000 lambs made a premium over the Scottish average of £38,000 – typically £3 a head.

According to Danny Miller, chairman and a farming member, the scheme handles over 25% of cattle and sheep in its designated area.

Sainsbury’s took an immediate interest. Initially the retailer trialled beef in 23 stores, but numbers soon swelled to 98 and are still rising.

Mr Miller admits that agriculture often views processors and major retailers with suspicion.

He has found his partners more than helpful.

“There’s a synergy between us and we are happy that they work to our advantage.”

Mr Miller, who farms 404ha (1000 acres) at Bilbster, Caithness, said:

“We are still making money and what’s more important we’re returning that premium to the farmer.

“In the period since October 2005, when trading started, almost 4000 cattle and 15,000 sheep have been sold under the Mey Selections brand.

This has resulted in extra premiums of almost 200,000 in total being earned by the farmer members.

With the extension of retail outlets planned for the autumn of 2006 it is expected that this total sum (of premium payments) will grow.”

RaffaelM@aol.com