Agroecology is receiving increasing attention for its potential to reconcile environmental, sustainability and food production goals, through restoring the health of agricultural ecosystems and increasing the resilience of farms to future challenges.

This study examines five different agroecological approaches that are currently practised in Scotland to determine their potential to support the delivery of policy targets relating to climate change, biodiversity, and food production. The approaches are: agroforestry, low-input systems, organic, integrated farm management (IFM) and regenerative agriculture.

Findings

  • The five models investigated showed considerable overlap in the farming practices typically adopted and there was no fixed boundary between these models. The models were also not mutually exclusive (e.g. an organic farm may also practise agroforestry).
  • Regenerative agriculture, integrated farm management (IFM) and organic farming had the widest range of practices considered as ‘core’ reflecting their broad scope and ‘toolbox’ approach to select practices appropriate to specific locations and circumstances.
  • Agroecological approaches are strongly knowledge focused with the farmer as the central decision-maker. A prescriptive set of practices for each model, therefore, goes against the grain. Farming system, geographical location, resource availability, constraints, mindset and priorities of the farmer, all influence the practices adopted under any specific agroecological model.
  • A farm-scale shift towards an agroecological model requires expertise, commitment and, in some instances, significant investment. With a typical delay before agronomic benefits are realised, farms need the financial capacity to buffer the economic costs of transitioning.
  • Labelling or certification to increase the market value of agroecological produce may incentivise farmers to adopt agroecological approaches. However, ensuring consumer demand and willingness to pay presents a challenge. 
  • Outcome-based approaches, whether for certification or agri-environment purposes, require robust, user-friendly metrics, to enable farmers to monitor and benchmark performance and adapt management to optimise outcomes.
  • The five agroecological models have the potential to reduce adverse environmental impacts associated with intensive agricultural production at the farm level.
  • While agroforestry and IFM were perceived to match yields attained in conventional systems, organic, regenerative agriculture and low-input systems were perceived to be lower yielding. However, all models were perceived to increase farm resilience and stabilise yields either slightly (low input and organic) or intermediately (agroforestry, regenerative, IFM).
  • The potential of agroecological approaches to deliver environmental outcomes depends on efficiently using land and external inputs. 
  • Identifying synergies and trade-offs is vital to help us design agroecological systems that optimise economic, food security and indeed social outcomes. There is a lack of system-based research that concurrently explores evidence for a diversity of outcomes in the Scottish context.

 

This report looks at options for reducing the greenhouse gas emissions from Scottish Farms. It analyses a range of options across changes in management of fertiliser, soil and manure, livestock feeding and energy use. Some of these changes require an investment in new tools, equipment or other installations on farm.

The analysis indicates that the 20 technology options considered could reduce emissions by between 9 and 150 kt CO2e GHG annually if they were implemented to their fullest potential across Scotland. Doing this would also have other positive environmental effects (e.g. with regards to soil or water quality). 

The report recommends use of complementary incentive mechanisms to encourage uptake of the technologies. These could include:

  • increased emphasis on these technologies in extension services or mechanisms;
  • support for collaborative implementation of the technologies;
  • foot printing/accounting schemes for validating and signalling on-farm and supply chain progress; and
  • a comprehensive approach to each stage of the supply chain. 

Methane emissions from livestock are responsible for approximately 50% of the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with agriculture in Scotland. Reducing the emissions is key to reducing agricultural emissions in Scotland. 

We have looked at this issue from different perspectives:

  1. Review of options for reducing greenhouse gas emissions via cattle slurry management
    explores how to reduce the greenhouse gases from storing and use of slurry at Scottish farms

  2. Livestock Health & Greenhouse Gas Emissions– looking at how emissions intensity could be reduced through control measures relating to
    • milk yield and cow fertility rates (dairy systems),
    • cow/ewe fertility and abortion rates, calf/lamb mortality and growth rates (beef and sheep systems), and
    • feed conversion ratios, FCR (all systems)
  3. Benchmarking the emissions intensity of Scottish livestock – making recommendations for benchmarking cattle milk and meat, and sheep meat within the boundary of cradle to farm-gate, in the first instance. 

  4. Nutritional strategies to reduce enteric methane emissions –  finding that three of the 12 nutritional strategies evaluated could be effective in reducing enteric methane  emissions. Based on this work, we were asked to explore the practical feasibility of including lipids and nitrates in livestock diets and concluded that this option has limited potential due to the complex connection between feeding regime and emissions.

  5. Farmyard Manure and Slurry Management, and Anaerobic Digestion in Scotland – Practical Application on Farm: this report examines the market potential for anaerobic digestion technologies as a tool to manage slurry and farmyard manure arising from Scottish livestock farming, focusing on how greenhouse gas emissions might be reduced.

  6. Slurry Storage on Scottish Farms –  A Feasibility Study – This work assesses the relative value of different slurry management options for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from livestock production.  It examines key sectors where there are significant emissions considers the opportunities for mitigation.