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Climate Change and Farming

“Naturally reared, climate friendly Scotch suckler bred beef needs to be differentiated from imports and dairy beef to give consumers a clear choice.” Jim Walker


The important role the agricultural sector plays in tackling climate change was highlighted in a debate in the Scottish Parliament on February 20th.

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The motion which was brought before the Parliament by Maurice Golden MSP, Conservative stated:

That the Parliament welcomes the contribution of Scottish agriculture to protecting the environment and being part of the solution to tackling climate change; commends Scottish farmers, including those in the West of Scotland, for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 29.4% since 1990; recognises that Scottish farmers already work hard to preserve the landscape, improve biodiversity, plant and manage woodland, restore peatland, improve water and soil quality and generate renewable energy; acknowledges the view that there is a need to develop a suite of joined-up, practical and progressive policies that allow food producers to continue running their businesses in a more sustainable and efficient manner, and looks forward to the new Agricultural Modernisation Fund assisting industry in this transition.

Farming and crofting will be undergoing significant changes and challenges brought on by the UK leaving the EU. The UK Government will be passing legislation which will see changes to the way the sector is run. In Scotland where farmers and crofters have benefited from the EUs subsidies as Less Favoured Area status and free movement of people supplying a seasonal workforce is going to be hit hard by these changes. Coupled with the loss of free trade with the 27 countries of the EU, farming as we know it will not survive. The reforms and effects of Brexit will favour very large farms.

Dealing with all of the above farmers and crofters are also having to adapt their practices to the very real effects of climate change.

Maurice Golden reminded the MSPs that farmers were on the front line when it came to climate change.

He pointed out that:

“They manage important woodlands and peatlands, both of which are important carbon sinks, and they work with organisations such as the Scottish Environment Protection Agency on agri-environmental projects to improve water and soil quality, bolster flood prevention measures and protect our biodiversity.”

Orkney Constituency MSP, Liam McArthur, LibDem, highlighted the importance of food standards and quality of produce. Orkney no longer has an abattoir and so it has already lost its protected status from the EU for Orkney Beef and Lamb. The EU set high standards for the sector and Orkney’s farmers produce an excellent product. The fear of many is that in order to gain access to other markets that the UK Government will allow cheaper food products which do not adhere to these standards to flood the UK market. This would be disastrous for our farmers.

Liam McArthur said:

“Scotland’s farming sector deserves credit for the high standards it achieves in animal welfare as well as efforts to reduce its environmental impacts.  More of course needs to be done, not least if we are to meet the challenge of the climate emergency, but I have no doubt that farmers in Orkney and across the country are up for meeting that challenge.

“In order to be able to do that, however, they will need access to a broad range of measures, reflecting the different circumstances and approaches to agriculture across the country. This will allow each to make a meaningful contribution to reducing emissions, improving sustainability while safeguarding a sector that plays a crucial role within our economy.

“It is also important that any future trade agreements negotiated hold food imports to the same high standards we require of our domestic food producers. It makes no sense to demand standards of our own farming sector that we are prepared to ignore when it comes to those importing food into the UK. This is not an unreasonable demand from the NFUS and I am pleased it is one that enjoys cross party support, including from Scottish Ministers.”

Although the management of farming and crofting is devolved to the Scottish Parliament it is still the UK Parliament which will decide on the future of the sector across the whole of the UK. It will be the UK Government who will determine the shape of future farming and food standards.

In Scotland a farmer led group, chaired by Jim Walker former President of the Scottish National Farmers Union, will be examining ways in which greenhouse gas emissions can be reduced within the suckler herd.

It will look at ways to :

  • to improve the efficiency, productivity and profitability of Scottish beef
  • changes to breeding and feeding practises
  • restoration and improvement  of natural on-farm habitats

Jim Walker said:

“The industry has faced multiple challenges over the last 25 years and its resilience and ability to rise to these challenges and adapt is remarkable.  Providing progressive beef farmers with the tools to make their businesses more productive and efficient, alongside measures to improve on farm emissions to help fight climate change, is yet another chapter in this story and is potentially game changing.

“Naturally reared, climate friendly Scotch suckler bred beef needs to be differentiated from imports and dairy beef to give consumers a clear choice. This initiative will give those farmers who want to be involved a real chance of delivering this, helping make their businesses more robust.”

You can watch the full Scottish Parliament debate here:

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