The Royal Highland Show is renowned for its annual celebration of food, agriculture, livestock and country life but it also provides a captivating perspective of how the different sectorial areas are evolving.

The Show’s success is not surprising. After all, agriculture plays a crucial part in Scotland’s economic landscape, providing food, jobs and environmental stewardship, but also around a quarter of Scotland’s greenhouse gas emissions.

In an era of rising energy costs, many of these exhibits hold particular significance for the agricultural sector and highlight the increasing appeal of alternative energy sources. Could these help reduce emissions from agriculture by 31% from 2019 levels, as requested in the Scottish Government’s updated Climate Change Plan? This means a rate of reduction nearly quadruple that of prior achievements in this sector.

Renewable energy solutions

Amidst the vibrant festival atmosphere, awash with blue cowboy hats, tote bags, sun cream one moment and waterproofs the next, visitors can stumble upon a diverse array of displays that showcase the wonders of renewable energy and low-carbon solutions for a wide range of new and old activities.

Walking through the different areas of the show, your attention is drawn to the glistening solar panels, basking in the sunlight and diligently converting its energy into electricity. Adjacent to the solar panels, miniature wind turbines rotate, demonstrating the viability of wind power as a clean and renewable energy option. The opportunities for renewable energy become ever more enticing, offering a pathway to cost savings, long-term sustainability and a reduced carbon footprint.

Electric vehicles in agriculture

Moreover, the energy exhibits at the Royal Highland Show recognise that it is not just about generating clean energy, but also about how it can be utilised. Electric vehicles (EVs) have gained significant traction in recent years including on-farm applications; from the e-quadbikes and e-utility vehicles on offer, to electric autonomous tractors silently gliding through the fields operated with pinpoint accuracy via satellite by their remote operator.

EVs are offered that are robust and adaptable in terms of their durability, the range that can be offered at an affordable price and with superior performance. The promises of less maintenance and greater energy efficiency than their traditional counterparts become key selling points, along with safe and super-quiet operation. The latter a welcome if unrequested benefit.

This also opens the door to a future where hydrogen could play a pivotal role in powering agricultural machinery, electrolysed locally from spare on-farm renewable capacity.

In a time of ever-increasing energy costs and increased energy demand on the farm, the energy exhibits at the Royal Highland Show provide a beacon of hope for those that can afford it. They highlight the transformative power of renewable energy. By embracing these technologies, the agricultural sector can reduce their environmental impact, mitigate the financial strain of energy expenditures and explore new avenues for sustainability and innovation.

Whole-systems approach

But as I leave the show, educated on the options available to help me decarbonise and to support Scotland’s plans to achieve net zero, I cannot help thinking that a better solution could be obtained through the adoption of a whole-systems approach.

Such an approach would consider the interactions between crops, soil, water use, climate, energy, livestock, machinery and even social and economic systems related to food distribution and consumption. This more comprehensive approach to problem-solving would consider the complete scenario, not just its individual parts.

We should be looking for an approach that addresses the complexity in a dynamic way to inform the farming community about how climate change can affect them. It needs to bring together action across the sector in an appropriate, sustainable and accessible way for the agricultural community.

A report in this area will be published this summer through ClimateXChange, to help inform on agricultural business at different scales and to get a better understanding of the opportunities for on-farm energy production as part of their decarbonisation pathway. In this respect, I do not envy the sales teams at next year’s Royal Highland Show!

Recent related CXC projects

Scottish agricultural knowledge and innovation system

Adapting Scottish agriculture to a changing climate

Decarbonisation of mobile agricultural machinery in Scotland

Scenarios for emissions reduction targets in Scottish agriculture