Agriculture in Orkney

Farming has been a way of life in Orkney for 5,000 years and remains one of the main industries in the islands.

Orkney is renowned for the quality of its produce, particularly its premium beef. In fact, Orkney has the highest density of beef cattle in Europe and is the largest dairy area north of Stirling. At the other extreme, the small flock of rare breed North Ronaldsay sheep is famous for its seaweed diet, with the meat much sought after by top chefs. There's even a herd of water buffalo in the islands.

Several agricultural organisations serve Orkney's farmers and work hard to protect the reputation and special status of the islands (Orkney Beef and Lamb both have European Protected Designation of Origin classification). Orkney Livestock Association is a farmer-led health scheme which aims to eliminate disease in cattle, while NFU Scotland is also very active locally. Orkney Farmers’ Market Association supports producers through a market held in Kirkwall on the last Saturday of the month, with an enthusiastic network of local Young Farmers' clubs serving the next generation of island farmers.

Agricultural grants for farmers and landowners are available through the agricultural department of the Scottish Government, SGRPID (Scottish Government Rural Payments and Inspections Directorate) which has a Kirkwall office. Scotland's Rural College (SRUC) also has a premises in Orkney, providing skills, education and business support to the industry.

The main event in the Orkney farming calendar is the County Show, organised by Orkney Agricultural Society and held in Kirkwall's Bignold Park every August. Here, after more than a week of agricultural shows across Orkney, farmers come to show off their animals and vie for the accolade of Show Champion. Island farmers also take their animals to events in the south, including the Royal Highland Show near Edinburgh, and regularly bring home prizes, reflecting the quality of Orkney's livestock. Local animals traditionally make very healthy prices at mart sales, both in Orkney and Aberdeen.

Many young people in Orkney continue to enter the agricultural industry, working on farms before taking on their own. Orkney College UHI offers a number of courses and qualifications to help people get the right start in the sector.