Attendees and apologies
- Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and Islands (co-chair)
- Martin Kennedy (co-chair)
Items and actions
Agenda item 1: welcome and introductions
Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and Islands welcomed everyone to the sixth meeting of the Agriculture Reform Implementation Oversight Board.
Co-chair echoed Chair’s welcome, noting the urgency of the Board’s work as members meet for the last time in 2021, maintaining a focus on conditionality.
Agenda item 2: Minutes of previous meetings and actions arising
These were updated and discussed as required. Chair thanked the Board for the discussion around the Vision and advised the Board would have sight of it before publication.
Whilst the importance of the Vision was recognised, it was also discussed that the Board’s priority is to focus on intended outcomes to secure a sustainable and profitable agricultural sector that can meet its climate change obligations.
Agenda item 3: update from the Academic Advisory Panel
Chair having reminded the Board that the Academic Advisory Panel (AAP) is a panel of expert academics which has been established to support the work of the ARIOB and provide insights to inform their decision-making, the Chief Scientific Advisor (CSA) for Agriculture and Environment confirmed that the aim of panel is to provide robust evidence and support the SG and ARIOB. Further, he advised that the Panel welcome questions by the Board as they arise.
CSA updated that the AAP met w/c 6 December, focussing on the Vision, recognising its importance in providing context to future decision-making, and on Track 2.
The AAP are of the view that it is vital that Track 2 utilise a structured baseline of information of various different types. Getting data gathering right at an early stage will hugely benefit future decision making. CSA also outlined the need to have a representative sample of farms, a method which will systematically capture a cross-section of emitters, with an obvious focus on the greatest. Consideration must also be given to how Government can help farms engage with such new processes.
Continuing on Track 2, CSA touched on future conditionality and restated the view that pilots are equally as important as audits but are both entirely dependent on goals of scheme(s). On that, he had three observations:
- the scale of engagement and how data is requested is critical
- ARIOB should consider what actions need a more collaborative approach to ensure the management of information is done in a clear and transparent way
- it may be beneficial to look at similar processes elsewhere that could be followed and embed current academic thinking around land use
CSA noted the AAP had discussed what is meant by “regenerative” agriculture and agreed that the work to develop Track 2 will clarify this, as informed by the recommendations and advice of the ARIOB.
Finally, the AAP discussed the use of common baseline data to provide integration between tools. Although there are already several tools for carbon auditing, there has not been a detailed comparison discussion, and the AAP would be happy to consider if the ARIOB required it. The AAP agreed that data governance needs to be clear: who will have access to it and can it be aggregated to get a national picture? In light of Track 1 being voluntary, it is likely the accuracy of the sample will be limited, so it should be easier in Track 2 to create an accurate national baseline.
Agenda item 4: update on Tracks 1 and 2 work
Officials from policy, digital, and RPID teams provided an update on Tracks 1 and 2 work, including user and data research, and monitoring and evaluation.
In order to gain support of the industry on this journey, Government will be asking farmers to baseline in the first instance for Track 1, but the Board queried if that was the only ask or whether the Government would also monitor the actions that producers took after carrying out their carbon audits.
Concerns were raised in relation to supplier capacity to carry out carbon audits when Track 1 is live and the Board noted the criticality to put education and advice service provision higher up the list of priorities for action as a means of helping to address capacity issues.
It was acknowledged that Track 2 will be more complex and will form a great deal of the Board’s work plan going forward. In terms of timescales and when there will be a representative sample of farmers up and running to assess, officials confirmed the detail is still being fleshed out and that will enable Government to have a better sense of timescales.
Some more general points were made as follows:
It may be worth highlighting to those farmers who have already done carbon audits that they can be supported to carry out a nutrient management plan, bearing in mind that soil testing will inform any such plan.
Tackling nature loss is equally as important as reducing emissions and that fact shouldn’t be lost as work progresses. Officials will assess progress against baselines for all intended outcomes as set out in the Board’s Terms of Reference.
Some inconsistencies and omissions in the presentations were acknowledged by officials, who gave assurance that it is the intention to look at all farm activities that impact on all desired outcomes. Similarly, in response to the suggestion that policy officials would benefit from observing farm activities first hand, it was confirmed that user involvement is part of the design process and that the intention is for officials to engage with end users and farmers extensively, particularly for Track 2. Covid permitting, this would include site visits.
Several members wished to see Animal Health plans given equal footing with soil testing and nutrient management plans. It was noted that many farmers are already engaged with Farm Assurance and Certification so have animal health plans in place and, as a result, the health improvement of animals will have a big impact on our emissions reductions goals. Chair reminded the Board that this topic featured in her NFU Scotland AGM speech in October but agreed that Animal Health plans should be a future discussion topic and an action point was taken.
There were differing opinions on ISO and PAS 2050 adherence, and ensuring both Government and supply chain compliance whilst benefitting producers. Avoiding unnecessary duplication whilst ensuring the robustness of the supply chain throughout these workstreams should be a priority.
Officials sought to reassure the Board that Government do not want to deny anyone the opportunity to take part and would carefully consider compliance obligations when engaging.
Some members felt it important to consider Scotland’s geographical differences, actively targeting specific areas to see the potential benefits of environmental behaviours and attributed funding – capturing both big and small emitters to see how they differ.
In response to a point raised about ownership of the data gathered from audits, some members stressed the need to seek input from wider industry and consumers in order to better assess their data requirements and ensure it was of use to as many interests as possible.
Agenda item 5: carbon audits
Chair referred members to the recent report from Kite/NMR comparing current Carbon Footprinting Tools which has been placed in the K-Hub for their information.
Some of the key points raised included:
The nature of a carbon audit can differ depending on who is paying for it and the outcomes aimed for. For the purposes of the National Test Programme, it was argued that a farmer-led approach would be optimal and must be considered when appointing a contractor. The pinch point may be getting people to complete audits as intended so continuity and standardisation will be important;
Global Farm Metric is a useful tool to assess farm sustainability; helping users to make more managed, holistic decisions about making incremental improvements with an emphasis on quantitative over qualitative data;
Farm level data and measurement standards must be agreed upon first before getting to labelling;
There are likely to be natural capital and carbon offsetting co-investment opportunities opening up with the private sector in the future;
People use different auditing tools for different purposes and so the Board counselled against mandating a specific tool. The priority is to agree what data should be collected as the goal is continual improvement on every farm, not simply meeting retailers’ requirements. The choice of tools would be strongly influenced by customer requirements as they seek to differentiate themselves from their competitors. Existing tools still need refining if they are to provide outputs that are genuinely useful at single farm level as well as for national aggregation. It will be important to take a collaborative approach to ensure Government know what users need, particularly given the different sizes of Scottish businesses, with similarities to earlier discussions (above) in relation to assessing big and small emitters.
While carbon auditing has obvious benefits, it is time consuming and the use of supplementary data to help farmers would have huge benefits and cut down on impacts to on-farm productivity;
Data extraction is a key consideration but the data itself and reporting mechanisms are also crucial. Consideration must be given to using a tool as comprehensive and future-proof as possible – this will help detect and monitor long-term trends;
We must be mindful that there is sufficient capacity to meet a potentially significant demand – a demand which is rightly being encouraged by Government;
Reducing duplication when integrating base data for all tools should be a priority, perhaps one for the AAP to consider. Integration with other data, benchmarking against others and users’ “best self” will allow users to see what is practically possible.
One member hoped the Board would commit to looking at the bigger picture via future meeting agenda items, including forthcoming Bills and biodiversity targets, which will link into other emerging policies, most notably the future payments system. Following on from this, it was requested that the workplan be updated and presented to the Board to ensure appropriate coverage ahead of the spring rollout of Track 1. Chair agreed to this and an action point was taken.
Communications remains an outstanding issue but following recruitment of a Comms Manager, a plan will follow and be presented to the Board in due course.
An enquiry was made to ensure there is clear understanding of financial implications for farmers as a result of the National Test Programme – both incentives and shortfalls (what they are expected to pay).
Finally, members were keen to gain clarity on timelines as we head into the new year, with a particular focus on a longer term framework. An action was taken to update current delivery plans (as shared with the Board as part of agenda item 4) with indicative timescales.
In response to a point that ARIOB needed to maintain momentum so that things don’t slide, Chair agreed that the ARIOB meeting frequency could be reviewed if members felt this was necessary.
In closing the meeting, Chair reminded members that the next meeting of the ARIOB is 20 January 2022 and that the Board will move to a monthly cycle of meetings. Chair thanked members for attending and wished them a Happy Christmas.
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