The History of Tarff Valley Agricultural Co-operative Society

Tarff Valley Agricultural Co-operative Society Ltd was instituted in 1903 by Mr Walter Montgomerie Neilson of Queenshill, Ringford. As the local laird, he saw financial advantages for his tenant-farmers in forming a co-operative to buy supplies of coal and lime, to be delivered by rail to Tarff Station on the Castle Douglas – Kirkcudbright branch line.

Without Mr Neilson’s financial input during those early years, the Society would have struggled to exist. For many years he paid the secretary’s salary of £50, acted as guarantor at the Bank for £200, sold three houses he owned in Ringford at a knockdown price to the Society and finally, when he died in 1951 he bequeathed £1,000 to the Society; the first agricultural co-operative in Scotland.

Tarff Valley has also been lucky in its appointments of Secretary/Managers. David Wallace filled this position from 1915 – 1937. He was succeeded by Ian Palmer who finally retired in 1965 and then David Patterson from 1969 – 1992. The stability and long service that these three gentlemen have given Tarff valley, 73 years in total, is a tribute to the Committees of Management of 1915, 1937 and 1969. The Society has also been fortunate in its chairmen, particularly W Montgomerie Neilson (1903 – 1915), John A. Armstrong, Culquha (1916- 1934), John Haddow, Fellnaw (1939- 1958) and Kenneth Wright, Airieland, (1964- 1988).

Secretary/Managers Years in position   Chairmen Years in position
David Wallace 1915 – 1937 W Montgomerie Neilson 1903 – 1915
Ian Palmer 1937 – 1965 John A. Armstrong, Culquha 1916 – 1934
David Patterson 1969 – 1992 John Haddow, Fellnaw 1939 – 1958
Kenneth Wright, Airieland 1964 – 1988

From its humble beginnings in the red tin shed at Tarff Station road end, the Secretary was hired at £50 per year plus 1% commission on sales. His hours were 10am – 1 pm except Monday when he attended Castle Douglas Market. Products sold around 1910 included coal ex: Castle Douglas, Bridge of Dee, Tarff and Kirkcudbright Stations @ 17/3d per ton, linseed and cotton cakes @ £9.5/- per ton. A consignment of sulphur phosphates (200-300 tons) was bought from North Eastern Agricultural Co-operative, Aberdeen , to be split between Tarff and Canonbie Co-operatives; the ports of delivery being Kirkcudbright and Annan harbours respectively. One Tarff customer complained bitterly that in a delivery of Peruvian guano, he had riddled two bags and found over a half hundredweight of stones!

Grass seed mixtures were bought and independently tested before selling to members right up to the Second World War. Binder twine was also stocked and in 1920, maggot fly dressing and Minimax Fire Extinguishers were first stocked. The first vehicle belonging to the Society was the Secretary’s bicycle in 1921. In 1924, one customer thought that there was no need for a telephone in the office – the public telephone box on the other side of the road would suffice; whilst in 1927 the Tongland and Twynholm Ploughing Association received 5 stones of flour, as a prize for the competitor with the largest family.

By the 1930s the first store had been bought and when Robert Hannay, Coal Merchant, died in 1943 his widow sold us her late husband’s business and property in the Tarff Station Yard. This became our first toehold in what is now our major depot. Over the next 22 years, until the railway closed, bit by bit the Society rented, renovated and extended the buildings. In 1966, the whole property, plus the Station House, was purchased for £2,300.

Originally, Tarff Valley Ltd was formed for the benefit of the parishioners of Tongland and Twynholm, then additionally for the adjoining parishes. Now – after acquiring premises in Dumfries , Castle Douglas, Whauphill, Castle Kennedy, Longtown, Newtown St Boswells, Dundonald and Islay the whole of South West Scotland, Northern England, Ayrshire and Islay and beyond is within our reach.

Over one hundred and twenty years years since it first began, Tarff now has in excess of 1200 members. With innovation and creating competitive advantage for our farming customers remaining at the heart of what we strive to achieve, the company has grown since the early days to a current turnover in the region of £100 million, with over 120 employees based at our sites throughout Southern Scotland, Northern England, Ayrshire and Islay.  The business is run on a commercial basis by a team of professional staff and is governed by a Board of Directors comprising of 6 local farmers, active in all sectors of agriculture.