The draft Climate Change Plan – currently out for consultation – recognises the significant emission reductions already achieved since 1990, and sets an ambitious target for the future, seeing Scotland as “among the lowest carbon and most efficient food producers in the world”.

Agriculture currently accounts for just under a quarter of Scotland’s greenhouse gas emissions. As the third largest emitting sector behind energy and transport, it has been a focus for CXC from the outset.

Working across the sector, the plan describes a future where by 2030:

  1. everyone in farming will understand the practical value of cost-effective climate mitigation measures;
  2. emissions from nitrogen fertiliser will have fallen;
  3. the emissions intensity of red meat and dairy produce will have improved;
  4. emissions from manure and slurry will have been reduced; and
  5. carbon stored on the land will be increasing through better management of soil and the expansion of woodland, forestry and hedgerows.

Research plays an important role in the design and implementation of policies to deliver these outcomes. Policy design needs to take account of the complex issues that cut across the agricultural sector: biophysical issues like the potential of Scottish soils to sequester more carbon interact with social and economic issues like farmers’ motivations and on-farm practices. Research also helps identify the specific steps that will ensure successful implementation and monitoring for example, in defining a practical system for optimal nitrogen use on Scottish farms, or being able to accurately monitor livestock emissions intensity figures.

CXC has been particularly involved as a knowledge provider for Scottish Government policy, and researchers at SRUC developed research reports in two areas:

  • improving livestock emissions intensity (policy outcome 3); and
  • reducing the impact of slurry and manure management (policy outcome 4).

The key here is to reduce the amount of emissions per unit of food produced. If we don’t grow our food in Scotland it must be imported, potentially at greater cost, both economically and in terms of greenhouse gas emissions. Taken together, small cuts in emissions during each stage of food production can combine to have a significant impact across the whole farming sector. The Climate Change Plan focuses on how Scotland can use its extensive land resource to produce local high quality food for domestic consumption and for export, while keeping emissions to a minimum.

SRUC researchers in CXC have contributed world-class science into the process of developing the Climate Change Plan. For example, we explored how livestock health might be improved through tackling certain diseases and improving nutritional strategies. We are continuing to explore how the use of an emissions intensity baseline for different livestock commodities might work in practice.

Reducing emissions from manure and slurry may not immediately grab the attention as a climate change policy. But this is crucial in tackling Scotland’s methane emissions – significant to the overall targets. Again, this is an area where our researchers have unpicked the complexities of the problem to find effective solutions that will work on Scottish farms. In one of our recent reports we explore the relative merits of available options – an essential step to designing effective interventions.

The Climate Change Plan recognises that success will need buy-in across the farming sector, from small scale tenant farmers to large scale operators, and including commercial partners in the demand and supply chain. How we continue to green Scotland’s agriculture will define how this sector develops not only as a great export for Scotland but also as a showcase for climate change action.