DURING the winter, before the spring sun coaxed my hens back into lay, I asked my local dairy to deliver some eggs along with my usual doorstep delivery of delicious milk, fresh from farms within cycling distance of my door. The box of eggs brought a smile to my face. On the front, chickens in kilts play the pipe and drum with the slogan: True Scottish Free Range Eggs “only the shell can tell”, with a clear guide inside the lid explaining the stamped code on the eggs.

“A nice bright box catches folks’ attention and they remember your eggs,” Brian Blyth explains. His family have been selling eggs to communities in Fife and beyond for more than 60 years. His company, D Blyth and Sons Ltd, has won many awards for quality. Brian knows Scotland’s name is an important selling point.

“Scotland’s always had a good reputation for high-quality food. The code on the egg is for traceability. The country of origin often is represented by a number, but the industry here fought hard to make sure ‘SCO’ was on the egg. We in the trade immediately know what the codes mean but it’s harder for customers, so we decided to put all the information in the egg box. A lot of people like to know where their food comes from.”

Egg farmers are facing challenging times. There is a virulent bird ‘flu coursing through the wild bird population and last November hens across Scotland were ordered into “flockdown” on Scottish Government orders. This order has been extended into April. There is a strict limit on the length of time birds can be kept in housed conditions yet still be called “free range”, and that limit is passed this week. Labels which say “Barn Eggs Laid by Free Range hens temporarily housed in barns for their wellbeing” are being added to many egg cartons.

In 2018, Scotland had 6.8 million laying chickens in a sector valued at £88m. With 12% of the UK’s production, our farmers produce enough to keep our country in eggs – a crucial self-sufficiency as we face uncertain times – and yet rising costs are hitting farmers hard.

“At the moment, there is a slight oversupply of eggs and retailers know they can pull the price they pay down, even though farmers are facing steeply rising costs,” says Matthew Steel, a third-generation egg farmer on the outskirts of Forfar and National Farmers’ Union of Scotland representative for Angus. “After Russia started the war in Ukraine, the price of chicken feed here went up £100 a tonne over the course of a week. That adds 20p per dozen to the cost of eggs – but supermarkets won’t pay that. Farmers will go out of business at a time we need them the most.”

The National:

Matthew is critical of the Westminster approach to farming but is hopeful things will improve for Scottish farmers with the Scottish Government paying close attention to farming and food security: “Agriculture is devolved and the Cabinet Secretary Mairi Gougeon (above) is working with farmers. Policies are being developed to grow the food we need while protecting Scotland’s environment. There is a significant opportunity to get things right.”

And what part can we play in all this? What can we do to get things right for our communities?

Brian Blyth believes the “shop local” movement is the way to go.

“During lockdown our van drivers were out every day making sure our local shops had eggs on the shelves when the supermarkets had nothing. Most of our customers have stayed loyal to us and we’ll do our best to keep costs down for them. An egg is the perfect food even for folk on tight budgets. It’s a meal in itself and quick to cook. It’s the ideal food.”

This could well be a tough year for many of us with a cost-of-living crisis Westminster refuses to control. Supporting local food and drink businesses is one way we can build resilience into our communities.

Ruth Watson is the founder of the Keep Scotland the Brand campaign