SUTHERLAND renewables and timber-processing business, GMG Energy, is investing some £250,000 in plant and machinery to build on its growth over the past five years.

The firm, which operates on a farm in the picturesque Halladale Strath between Tongue and Thurso, has spent £150,000 on a Wood Mizer LT70 sawmill and is poised to invest another £100,000 on a treatment plant to increase its range of products.

The initiative means that wood from the local area will no longer need to be transported 125 miles for processing, and that businesses across the North and the Islands can reduce their carbon footprint by sourcing locally.

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GMG Energy is also investigating the possibility of creating heat and steam from wood waste to turn a turbine in order to self-generate the electricity it uses and to further minimise its environmental impact.

Business owner Malcolm Morrison, a former agricultural banker with Santander, said: “This investment means that we now have some of the most up-to-date timber processing equipment on the market and are well-positioned for meaningful expansion.

“Customers will be able to cut down on imported timber and timber products, road miles can be minimised and a sustainable market can be created for this area’s abundant forestry resources.

“We will continue to plant more trees than we process, meaning the business is self-sustaining, and a recent purchase of some 21,000 tonnes of local forestry means that we have in-built resilience in the event of interruption of supply.”

GMG Energy is sited at Bighouse, where Mr Morrison’s Sutherland-born mother still lives. The farm also has 800 North Country Cheviot sheep, a herd of summer cattle and a number of rental and holiday accommodations.

Mr Morrison left his studies in agricultural economics at Glasgow University to return to farming before going into agricultural business and thence into agri-banking, initially with Clydesdale Bank.

He said: “I had a lot of clients who were exploring renewables and I saw the opportunities which were becoming available so, in 2016, I set up a standalone renewables business with six-megawatt biomass boilers to dry logs, sawdust and chips.

“The sawmill, which gives us further wood processing capability, was established just 18 months ago with very welcome support from the Forestry Commission and the business now has six full-time staff and one employee, a shepherd, on the farm.

“We are looking north, not south, for markets and have clients such as a pallet manufacturer in Orkney who supplies the fishing industry. Local estates and farms are outlets for fence posts, gate rails, cladding and so on.”

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GMG hopes that the investment in the treatment plant will open up new opportunities with agribusiness and local construction companies for treated and stress-tested timber. The firm is also considering some limited manufacture, of items such as garden furniture.

With turnover in the year to August 2021 increasing to just over £2 million, up from £1.7 million the previous year, Mr Morrison is cautious about predictions for next year, given spiralling costs of fuel, timber and labour, but said he would be happy with a period of steady post-investment consolidation.