December 15 last year saw Scottish Sea Farms complete its most ambitious acquisition to date: the £173m purchase of Grieg Seafood Shetland.

The reality, however, is that closing such a deal is only the start of the journey.

‘Our aim, from day one, has been to develop Shetland into a high-performing farming region capable of rivalling any other on biology, quality and cost efficiencies, not just here in Scotland but globally,’ said Scottish Sea Farms Managing Director Jim Gallagher.

‘That’s not a vision you achieve in one or even a few years, it’s a longer-term goal, but one we’ve made solid progress towards over the last 12 months.’

Aside from the immediate practicalities of onboarding new employees and integrating IT systems, priority number one has been to blend the best of both cultures.

‘To become the best, we first need to be open and honest about where we can and must improve – and by that I’m referring to both companies.

‘Our ‘First 100 days’ approach proved instrumental in this, creating the time, focus, and, I hope, safe space for people to discuss and debate the key issues.’

There have been some quick but key wins already. ‘Scottish Sea Farms’ philosophy has always been that responsibility of day-to-day farming, from fish health and feeding regimes to forecasting and budgeting, rests best with the farm teams themselves; a level of responsibility we’ve extended to our new farms, with clear targets and measures agreed.

‘Equally, Grieg had a comprehensive environmental monitoring regime in place, which we’ve since adopted, along with more advanced farm infrastructure at some locations, the insights from which have helped inform our modernisation programme.’

Farming blueprint

With each new way of working agreed, another piece of the roadmap falls into place, said Gallagher.

‘We have secure, stable and supportive owners, we are in this for the long- term, and it’s important that we get our farming blueprint for the future right rather than rush it.’

It must help that the new Shetland region ends year one in profit and delivering good harvest volumes? ‘Yes,’ said Gallagher, ‘but there are a growing number of challenges too. Not least biological performance, rising inflation on feed, utilities, fuel and other essentials, and the impacts of climate change.

‘So, there’s more need than ever to focus on what more we can do to create the best growing conditions, achieve the best biology out on farm and improve our cost base.’

Back on dry land, the exchange of ideas has proven equally productive, with a £2m investment in freshwater farming underway, targeted at delivering a better quality of smolt and, in turn, enhancing fish welfare and survival once at sea.

Meanwhile, a further £2m investment to increase the region’s processing capacity is close to completion in Q1 2023.

‘We have a huge opportunity ahead of us and to help ensure we achieve it we’ve involved every area of the business: Shetland colleagues old and new, teams from around our other regions, trusted suppliers, parent companies,’ said Gallagher.

‘One year on, the vast majority of colleagues who joined Scottish Sea Farms via the acquisition have chosen to stay with Scottish Sea Farms. Hopefully, that’s a sign everyone feels engaged and included in shaping the way forward.’

A moment to reflect

As for unknowns and surprises along the way, there have been a few, admitted Gallagher. ‘On the whole, though, they have been pleasant surprises: the condition factor of the fish; the high standard of farm infrastructure; and the ability, ambition and drive of the team all being uppermost.

‘Everyone is hungry to do and be better, everyone is committed to playing their part, and that’s going to be critical because there’s a lot more work to be done as we build and fine-tune our roadmap for success.

‘In many ways we’ve only just started our journey.

‘For now, though, as we celebrate the one-year anniversary of the acquisition, it’s important that we take a moment to recognise how far we have come as we transition to one team with one consistent way of working, shaped by the best of both.

‘All of which will put us in a stronger position to deliver on our roadmap and goals, not just for Shetland but for the wider business.

‘Watch this space, as they say.’