Academic Advisory Panel minutes: 7 August 2023

Minutes from the meeting of the group on 7 August 2023.

Items and actions

Food production and biodiversity

1. Introduction  

The Chair Prof. Mat Williams introduced the meeting and welcomed two new members of the Panel, Professor Sharon Huws from the Queen’s University Belfast and Professor Lee-Ann Sutherland from the James Hutton Institute.

2. Minutes from previous meeting and advisory note

The summary of the Academic Advisory Panel (AAP) meeting held on the 5 May 2023 and the advisory note on achieving a just transition to climate-positive and nature-positive agriculture, and on factors which influence adaptations to agricultural practice was circulated to ARIOB for feedback on 19 July. Feedback will be circulated to the AAP members for awareness.

3. Food production

Chair informed the AAP that an advisory note summarising discussion points raised during the Food Production part of the meeting will be presented to ARIOB during in-person meeting on the 29 September.

Two pieces of work connected to food production were presented to the Panel. The first presentation gave a high-level overview of the food production aspects of the Agriculture Reform Programme (ARP) and the outcomes the ARP is seeking to achieve, in order to meet Scotland’s ambition to become a global leader in sustainable food production, as outlined in the Vision for Agriculture published in March 2022. The Panel was asked about advice on appropriate action to meet the vision and the role of the future support framework in influencing the balance of food production, supporting production capacity in relation to financial sustainability, and striking a balance between the need for direct support via basic payments and using payments to incentivise improvements in business efficiency and innovation.

The second presentation outlined risks and opportunities to food production and food security in the context of global climate change. Some locations and crops may benefit from climate change however, the overall balance is negative and deteriorating over time. Future climatic changes will affect the food supply chain therefore, the food system needs to be re-structured, emphasising the health of the ecosystem and resilience to future shocks to minimise negative impacts of climatic changes.

The discussion raised the following points:

  • vision for food production requires clarity, future proofing, and an integrated approach with other policies extending beyond farming activity
  • to achieve more balanced and sustainable food production system future agricultural support framework needs to be aligned with societal values
  • increasing the diversity of the food production sector should be central to thinking about ‘Just Transition’
  • the transformation plan should also give consideration to the global context, human health, including nutrition, and environmental implications
  • future support should incorporate targeted support for specific benefits and services incentivizing land management practices, succession planning, business efficiency, innovation, and mitigation of climate change impacts

4. Biodiversity

The ongoing work on integrating positive outcomes for biodiversity into future agriculture support was presented to the Panel. The draft of the Scottish Biodiversity Strategy vision sets out that future farmland practices will result in a substantial regeneration in biodiversity, ecosystem and soil health while sustaining high quality food production. The presentation outlined draft targets for agricultural land that will be put in place to achieve the strategy’s objectives.

The Panel was asked to provide feedback on presented work, sources of evidence useful for refinement of targets, and if targets are measurable at appropriate scales or is further work required. Below is a summary of the main points raised by the AAP during the discussion that followed the presentation:

  • effective biodiversity restoration requires nuanced targets to drive action
  • to increase understanding of the value of nature and habitats farmers and crofters could be involved in assessment of biodiversity on the land they manage
  • the use of high resolution data (e.g. LIDAR) and increasing availability of existing data could lead to improved biodiversity auditing and support the regeneration of biodiversity
  • ecosystem restoration in agricultural landscapes requires shift towards monitoring ecosystem health indicators rather than indicator species. Measurements should be carried out across landscapes as changes may not always happen at the farm scale
  • the potential impact of audit requirements, must be carefully assessed. Using biodiversity audits could lead to the emergence of new business opportunities but also increased demands on land managers
  • focus should be placed on providing clear explanations of terms and definitions used in the Biodiversity strategy and consistency of their use

5. AOB

The Panel was asked to contribute ideas to the development of the AAP work plan for 2024. The following suggestions were made:

  • nutrition and health of food
  • influencing adaptation of behaviour and underlying factors
  • farm structures and structural change in Scotland - patterns of land tenure and farm business survey
  • livestock in human and planetary health
  • issues around bracken & tick born disease. How can we control bracken.
  • woodland establishment on agricultural land – forestry, trees and woodlands
  • food sector and Net Zero - change of upstream and downstream industries (impacts on future food production, food supply chains, and green finance)
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