Farmers are already experiencing changing weather patterns and extreme events due to climate change and consideration of adaptation actions is very timely.

This report maps the major agricultural activities in Scotland and examines Scotland’s rainfall and temperature projections up to 2030, 2050 and 2100 using UK Climate Projection 18 data, to create a picture of current agricultural activity and future climate.

The study located regions that have a similar climate to what Scotland expects in the future, to identify agricultural products that could be adopted or expanded in Scotland. It also explored published evidence to examine the options for climate change adaptation for farmers in Scotland.

The evidence review identified around 50 adaptation actions suitable for Scottish agriculture that would be feasible in all regions of Scotland before 2030 and are also applicable to 2050 and 2100.

Key findings
  • Scotland is predicted to have wetter and warmer winters and drier and warmer summers, alongside a higher frequency of extreme events.
  • The climatically regions in the world comparable to Scotland are limited to northern Europe, parts of western Canada, southern Alaska, southern Chile and Auckland Island.
  • Relevant cropping activity could be e.g. sugar beet, apples, oats and hops.
  • Livestock are more adaptable than cropping, so it will be more important to adapt management and improve both natural/green and hard infrastructure, such as shade, shelterbelts and buildings, than completely change breeds and/or species.
  • Proposed adaptation actions include adjusting planting and harvesting dates, selecting crop types resilient to extreme weather, and adjusting pasture and soil management practices.
  • Adaptive actions include knowledge transfer and management changes, such as advice provision, early weather warning systems and farmer co-operatives. There are also cross-over actions that support mitigation and adaptation in agriculture and can support biodiversity, such as changes to fertiliser application frequency to improve both inorganic and organic fertiliser use efficiency, improved soil management to better respond to wetter and drier conditions and use of agroforestry.

The report recommends that it is important to act now to increase Scotland’s adaptive capacity, particularly as in the past year Scotland has experienced extreme storms, extreme heat and extended dry periods.

Further details on the findings and a full list of recommendations is available in the report.

If Scotland is to achieve its ambitious net-zero greenhouse gas emissions target by 2045, bioenergy crops present one option as an integral part of the energy supply system.

The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) has identified that under net-zero emissions scenarios, bioenergy supplied in the UK could reach 200TWh (with 170TWh of this sourced from the UK) by 2050. The CCC considered that UK-produced energy crops could be an important source of bioenergy and assumed that around 700,000 ha could be planted in the UK to help achieve this target, although it did not consider where. If it were evenly spread across the arable area of the UK, Scotland’s ‘share’ would be about 70,000 ha.

This report examines the potential for a sustainable expansion of perennial bioenergy crop production on low-grade agricultural land or underutilised land, focusing on short rotation coppice (SRC), miscanthus and short rotation forestry (SRF). The aim was to understand the potential implications of any expansion, as a basis for further discussion.

Key findings

The theoretically suitable total land area identified across all three crops and land types, which include grassland, is more than 900,000 ha; suggesting that Scotland could make a substantial contribution to the area of UK energy crops, and meet its ‘share.’ The theoretically suitable total land area is shown to decline when grassland areas are excluded.

In terms of total area, geospatial modelling shows a theoretical potential for each crop type in Scotland (based on current data) of :

  • 912,600 ha of suitable land is currently available for planting of SRF,
  • 219,100 ha is available for SRC and
  • 51,800 ha is available for miscanthus.

The areas can overlap and are therefore not mutually exclusive.

The majority of this theoretically available land is located in the east of Scotland and the lowlands. The availability of this land will be limited by a range of other factors, for example the need for land for other uses, such as fodder production, forestry (non-energy) etc.

The theoretically available land could provide the following energy yields:

  • 50TWh/yr and 5.78Modt/yr for SRF,
  • 25TWh/yr and 1.75Modt/yr for SRC and
  • 59TWh/yr and 0.52Modt/yr for miscanthus.

Overall constraints are more severe for miscanthus than for SRC or SRF. The following constraints have high impacts on potential production area:

  • Winter hardiness of miscanthus is a major constraint for this crop in much of Scotland.
  • Current varieties of miscanthus are constrained by climate to the south and south east of Scotland (Towers, 2013).
  • Soil carbon loss is a constraint for SRC expansion. There is a large area of land in Scotland with high levels of soil organic carbon and this land is susceptible to loss of soil carbon when it is cultivated. For SRF this constraint is less relevant because there is less soil cultivation but planting of trees on blanket bog (peatland) should be avoided (as recommended in the UK Forestry Standard (Forestry Commission, 2017)) because of habitat loss and carbon loss as a consequence of drainage.

Using a UK Climate Projections 2009 (UKCP09) medium emissions scenario for a changing climate, we found that the expansion in suitable land is between:

  • 22-25% of the current theoretically suitable land area out to 2030 and between 29-30% of the current suitable land area out to 2045 for SRC and miscanthus.
  • However, the suitable land available for SRF is shown to decline by 3% by 2040.

Overall, the data do show that there are opportunities for energy crop expansion both currently and under a changing climate.