Academic Advisory Panel minutes: 24 February 2023

Minutes from the meeting of the group on 24th February 2024.

Items and actions

Conditionality in new and existing agricultural support schemes,  Airborne Imaging and Lidar of Scotland’s Assets (AILSA), and methane management in ruminant livestock

  1. Welcome and introductions 

Chair welcomed everyone to the meeting, noting the workplan for 2023 and with a request for any comments on papers. A request was made to include Just Transition plans in the Climate Change Plan (CCP) discussion at the second AAP meeting taking place in April/May. Members asked that consideration is given to highlighting the role of the Academic Advisory Panel for ARIOB, how the AAP draw on relevant research, and how this links with wider research and policy. There could be a role for SEFARI Gateway to improve knowledge exchange in this area.

One member requested that the ARIOB communique from 3 February 2023 should be corrected to reflect that the work on conditionality in existing schemes stemmed from a commissioned project that specifically provides policy advice and analytical support to future policy rather than from the academic panel.

  1. Conditionality in new and existing agricultural support schemes  

To stimulate discussion, panel member provided a concise summary of three reports on conditionality of the future agricultural support and conceptual delivery framework discussed by ARIOB in February 2023. The panel was asked for input on the concept and strategies rather than the detail, taking regionality into consideration. 

The discussion covered the following points:

  • to reflect the relative prioritisation given to different policy objectives, individual measures could be weighted differentially
  • weightings and thresholds for arable farms, and clear metrics aimed at encouraging best practice and production efficiency were recognised as helpful solutions. The IPM plans for grasslands should be considered for rough grazing scenarios
  • workforce and skills planning are also important, however need for CPD could place a disproportionate burden on small size businesses and part time farmers
  • the protection and enhancement of Scottish wetlands and peatlands offers potentially significant emission reductions and biodiversity improvements. There is an opportunity for tiers 1-4 to work together in restoring and protecting both wetlands and peatlands
    • tier 1 – protection through restricted practice 
    • tier 2 – enhancement through new practice 
    • tier 3 and 4 – restoration through significant actions (stock exclusion / withdrawal etc.) 
  • improvement in herd efficiency to limit GHG emissions is a promising idea, however best practice should mean farmers increasing profit  
  1. Airborne Imaging and Lidar of Scotland’s Assets (AILSA) 

Chair presented an overview of the potential of the airborne imaging and laser mapping activity to support land management. Airborne mapping at high resolution would allow for a wide range of applications e.g., monitoring forest biomass, condition of peatland and restoration status, and mapping of all farm landscapes which would be of benefit to a wide range of policy areas. Currently, Scotland is the only UK nation without this mapping technology.

The discussion covered the following points:

  • the panel fully endorsed the idea of establishing AILSA and expressed the opinion that investment cost (£7M) would provide excellent return when taking breadth of system’s benefits attached to policy delivery and adaptation, and strengthening of resilience under consideration
  • priority for natural assets scanning of peatland should be considered. High resolution of collected data would fill knowledge gaps on existing structure and be an invaluable source for planning of restoration activities. Other areas which would benefit from scanning are monitoring of riparian zones and leaching of nitrates, detection of erosion hot spots on land and on the coast, survey of archeological sites
  • it is important to learn lessons from system introduction in Wales and Northern Ireland. Consideration should also be given to scan frequency, 4 years vs 3, basing decision on sensitivity for detection of change
  • system collects data simultaneously using both laser scan pictures and imaging (including infrared) data. It is expected that collating all data together into a 3D picture should take no longer than few weeks
  • panel mentioned range of LIDAR and remote sensing research activities taking place in Scotland and internationally (E.g., SRUC imaging of the Shetland Islands, CivTech & Nature Scot project measuring health of Protected Areas, laser elevation model of Sweden) as potential knowledge exchange opportunities
  1. Methane management in ruminant livestock 

Officials outlined science and technology mitigation options for methane emissions from ruminant livestock in Scotland.

The discussion covered the following points:

  • breeding technologies could achieve improvements in the future but there is no silver bullet. Many of the technologies and breeding improvements will not be available for mainstream use in the timescale needed to generate significant reductions towards methane emissions targets. Any genomics and gene editing research should consider the possibility of negative unintended consequences
  • emissions savings are based on predicted uptake. An increase in the uptake of measures could be achieved by the introduction of a regulatory framework
  • to meet the short-term emissions reduction targets better use of existing technology and knowledge of identifying low performing animals should be made. Easy wins can be also potentially achieved using feed additives; however, consideration should be given to how we account for methane reduction currently achieved through feed supplements already on the market
  • methane emissions from deer should also be considered and potentially included in the methane emissions inventory
  1. AOB

The panel asked about publication of economic reports on Scottish agriculture given the ongoing Agricultural Statistics Transformation Programme. It was agreed to follow up with officials on this following the meeting, which has been actioned. Suggestion was made that data sharing strategy should be considered for more efficient data collection and improved accessibility. 

ACTION: AAP secretariat to request revision and update of the timeline listed on the Scottish Government economic reports website.

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