Plans for the expansion of the Scottish Agricultural College (SAC) are on track for it to become the UK giant of farm education, research and consultancy.
The College’s merger with three other Scottish land-based learning institutes is expected to be finalised in August and SAC is now looking at new opportunities to develop consultancy services in England and Wales beyond its current bases in York, Kendal and Wooler.
Discussions on more collaboration with Scotland’s globally recognized Moredun and James Hutton Institutes are also ongoing.
In his first comments since his appointment as chief executive and principal of SAC, Professor Bob Webb, formerly professor of animal science at Nottingham University, said the merger with Barony College, Elmwood College and Oatridge College would further strengthen a business which already has a turnover of £55 million and a staff of 950.
He added: “SAC is a significant and unique organisation. Its three strands of teaching, research and farm consultancy are what make it unique and that’s what attracted me to coming here.
“The last thing I’d want to see would be any separation of these strands. The research feeds through to the teaching and to advice and makes it different to others across the UK and closer to what happens in the States where extension services are linked into higher education.”
Prof Webb said it was important for SAC to look at income streams to ensure the viability of the business so opportunities to develop consultancy services were actively being pursued in England and Wales. However he added he was also optimistic for the future of agricultural research funding.
“Agriculture has always been important but I think it will be recognized even more because of concern over the availability, cost and security of food. I’m optimistic that in terms of teaching and research agriculture will be central to Government thinking. SAC has a vital role and will be pushing to ensure those messages are heard loud and clear.”