Agriculture and the environment

Agriculture and climate change

Our vision for agriculture, published in March 2022, outlines our long-term vision to transform how we support farming and food production in Scotland to become a global leader in sustainable and regenerative agriculture. While our agricultural industry continues to provide food with an international reputation for quality and environmental production standards.

As set out in the Environment Strategy for Scotland, we are committed to addressing the twin crises of climate change and biodiversity loss: to create a fairer and greener Scotland. Scottish agriculture will play a key role in tackling the twin crises.

We know that many farmers, crofters, and land managers are already farming more sustainably, adopting regenerative agriculture principles and approaches, and using tools such as carbon audits and soil testing to inform practice change. We will continue to support the agriculture industry to continue to reduce its emissions, however, meeting our climate targets will require a significant shift in the practices of farmers, crofters, and land managers. 

We publish a statutory strategic Climate Change Plan for meeting our emissions reduction targets at least every five years and we are currently considering further agricultural climate policies for the next plan to help the industry further reduce its emissions. Our current Climate Change Plan update from December 2020, sets out the proposals and policies for agriculture, including, alongside the indicators that will allow us to measure progress and adjust policies. These can be found in part 3, chapter 7.

The future Agriculture Bill will contribute to the vision and will aim to provide Scotland with a framework to support and work with farmers and crofters to meet more of our food needs sustainably and to farm and croft with nature. The National Test Programme is also an important step towards achieving our future vision for agriculture in Scotland. By the end of the programme in 2026, Scotland will have a support framework that supports high quality food production, climate mitigation and adaptation, and nature restoration.

We have set up the Agricultural Reform Implementation Oversight Board to support with the implementation of our policy reform and our Programme for Government includes more information on our commitment on how agriculture will continue to contribute on climate targets.

Emissions in agriculture 

Greenhouse gases in agriculture

Agriculture and food production rely on natural processes and consequently will always cause a degree of greenhouse gas emissions.  

With changes in farming practices, and by utilising new technology and innovative tools, a significant reduction in emissions can be achieved. However, to meet agricultures’ envelope under the updated Climate Change Plan, agriculture needs to, with urgency, reduce its emissions by 31% from 2019 levels by 2032. 

Agriculture also has an essential role to play in supporting progress to the land use, land use change and forestry emissions envelope.

There are three main greenhouse gases produced in agriculture:

  • carbon dioxide
  • methane
  • nitrous oxide

Different greenhouse gases have different effects on climate change, and this is known as their global warming potential (GWP). Over a 100-year period, methane’s GWP is considered to be 25 times worse than that of carbon dioxide, while nitrous oxide’s GWP is considered to be 298 times worse than carbon dioxide.

Methane and nitrous oxide make up over two thirds of Scottish agriculture’s total emissions. 

Reducing emissions in agriculture

Emissions from agriculture have fallen by 14.9% (1.3 MtCO2e) up to 2020 from the 1990 baseline figure due to a reduction in livestock numbers and a rise of the cost of fertilisers 

There are several things that individual agricultural businesses can do to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to climate change to ensure a Just Transition:

  • taking a holistic approach to protecting and enhancing their soil
  • optimising land use
  • tackling livestock disease
  • utilising the best technology
  • maximising input efficiency
  • turning wastes into a resource
  • increasing biodiversity

Actions such as these will help not only to reduce emissions, but also to improve animal health and welfare, supply cleaner water and air, benefit biodiversity, increase the farm’s financial security, and improve soil quality while increasing the volume of Scotland’s carbon sink.

Agriculture can also support Scotland's efforts to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions though sequestering carbon in woodlands and soil, and through generating its energy from renewable sources.

How we are supporting agriculture

Land management in Scotland will change as we tackle the twin climate and biodiversity crises, which will present challenges and opportunities. To ensure a just transition for agriculture and associated land use, we will continue to support our farmers, crofters, land managers, and members of the agriculture supply chain to improve business resilience, supply guidance and support, encourage a co-operative approach to optimise collaboration and knowledge exchange, improve efficiency and productivity, including through adoption and deployment of technology and innovation through initiatives as:

Farming for a Better Climate is a flexible, adaptable programme of work, led by experts in the Scottish Rural Collage. It provides farmers and land managers with advice and encouragement in relation to the uptake of practices which will help the sector move to a sustainable low carbon future by the promotion of practical ways to cut carbon and improve profitability including soil regenerative agricultural practices. Awareness raising and knowledge exchange is achieved through on-farm demonstration events, seminars, conferences, publications in the farming press and social media channels, and practical advice, guidance notes and case studies being made available. 

The farmer-led soil regenerative agriculture network, supported by Farming for a Better Climate, enables farmers to work together to show how best to support, enhance and protect their farm soils. The group has trialled novel approaches to allow them to improve production whilst delivering wider benefits such as building soil resilience, improving water retention, storing carbon, and enhancing biodiversity.

The total budget for Farming for a Better Climate programme will not exceed £125,000 per annum. The programme is covered under state aid regulations and has been notified to the European Commission under Article 31 of Commission Regulation (EU) No 702/2014.

The Agriculture, Biodiversity and Climate Change Network is a joint Scottish Government and National Farmers Union Scotland, Quality Meat Scotland, Soil Association Scotland, and SAC Consulting initiative. It aims to inspire farmers and crofters to take greater action on climate and the environment by highlighting their peers’ activities in one location online. The network is a place to highlight the diversity of options and opportunities available to farmers and crofters to mitigate climate change and improve biodiversity in a way that works for their businesses.

The Integrating Trees Network is a joint Scottish Government and Scottish Forestry initiative. Encouraging more trees to be planted on Scottish agriculture land, in the right place, for the right reason and to give guidance on how this can be practically achieved. It is a farmer and crofter led initiative with six host farmers from across Scotland showcasing the multiple benefits of increasing the integration of trees on farmland for climate change and wider environmental priorities. Register for Integrating Tree Network events.

The Scottish Rural Development Programme and Farm Advisory Service supplies further support to Scotland’s farmers, crofters, and land managers on climate change.

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