Practical support needed to help Scottish agriculture meet climate change targets

Press Release

Scottish farmers and land managers can do more in the fight against climate change but need practical and detailed support in order to do so, Scottish Land & Estates said today.

The rural business organisation was responding to a public consultation on an update to Scotland’s Climate Change Plan 2018-2032.

SLE said while some progress had been made on cutting emissions, there was now a real need for urgency to enable agriculture to transition to a lower emissions future.

Stephen Young, Head of Policy at Scottish Land & Estates, said:

“Significant strides have been made by rural businesses across Scotland over the last decade to both cut emissions and to improve carbon storage through increased tree planting and peatland restoration. However, despite these efforts, agriculture is still behind other sectors in cutting emissions and could be left as one of the most polluting sectors - potentially damaging the reputation of Scottish produce.

“No single decision can transform the environmental credentials of agriculture overnight but we do need to see action and more practical support given to farming businesses to enable change rather than it primarily being a discussion point for academics, policy and government officials. Scottish Government initiatives such as the Sustainable Agriculture Capital Grant Scheme (SACGS) pilot, part of the Agricultural Transformation Programme (ATP), have been very welcome in attempting to deliver real support for sustainable farming and land use and it is this sort of action that can deliver improvements to the natural environment.

“Management decisions over recent decades have been driven by the direction of travel from CAP, which maintained a strong production element. There is now a huge opportunity for change over future decades – change which would have been required even if remained in the EU - but we need the detail for this imminently.

“The consultation mentions an increase in farm woodlands but where businesses are taking this step, we also need to see an acknowledgement that credit for cutting carbon will be given to agriculture rather than forestry and land use change, even if it is informally.

“The recent work of the suckler beef group also looks to be a good starting point in changing the thought process behind producing beef but now this needs to be backed up and ‘mainstreamed’ to create a greater scale of change. We need more detail on how soil carbon and quality can be enhanced and a reduction in waste is also possible, integrating the needs of the retail and wholesale market with farm level production will create both financial and environmental benefits.

“It is encouraging to see local food very much on the agenda and public procurement can be an exemplar for this, sourcing Scottish produce where we fully understand its emissions, production standards and role in Scotland’s environment.”

SLE added that it had long pressed for greater integration of land use and said that the rollout of regional partnerships should be accelerated.

Mr Young continued:  “Scottish Land & Estates has been vocal, particularly in our #Route2050 paper, that we need to break down the silos that exist around farming, forestry, sporting and other land uses and embrace an integrated approach to land management.

“Regional Land Use Partnerships (RLUP) have been widely accepted as a vehicle to accelerate change and it is disappointing to see a reversion from full roll out of these partnerships to further pilots. There is, however, also a concern if the full suite of incentives is not available to each partnership from the beginning, which could undermine their work and credibility. By working collaboratively and using practical data to aid management decisions we can really start to see progress.”