Agricultural transition in Scotland - first steps towards our national policy: consultation analysis
Analysis of the responses received to the Agricultural Transition in Scotland consultation. The consultation was carried out between August 2021 and November 2021.
A consultation on 'Agricultural Transition – First Steps toward Our National Policy' ran from 25 August to 17 November 2021. In total, 314 responses were received. The consultation provided an opportunity for the Scottish Government to learn from stakeholders' perspectives, expertise and experience as Scotland moves towards a Just Transition of the agricultural sector.
The vast majority of respondents (85%) agreed that agricultural businesses who receive financial support should be required to undertake baseline data collection, and 83% agreed that data should be collated nationally. This was considered essential to get a full and accurate overview of the sector's current status, and to have a clear national picture to monitor future progress and understand changes taking place. Data collection was also viewed as an important way to drive action at a farm level and nationally, and a valuable tool for policy development. There were repeated calls for straightforward data collection which reflects the diversity of farm types, and for training and guidance for farmers on how to collect and use the data.
Almost two thirds (64%) disagreed with only funding capital items which have a clear link to reducing emissions. Respondents were clear that there should be capital funding for items which support wider environmental improvement, and not solely for items which reduce greenhouse gases. This included items to improve biodiversity, land, soil and crop management. Many questioned how a clear link to reducing emissions would be defined and measured. Capital funding was also considered beneficial to improving food production and food security, and several called for funds to boost productivity, efficiency, and profits, noting gains in these areas could lead to reduced greenhouse gases. Match funding was seen to encourage businesses to grow and develop in sustainable ways, accelerate the adoption of new technologies, improve efficiency and therefore help realise environmental policy objectives. However, several felt the level of match funding requested of businesses should be based on the extent of public benefit or business gain.
Biodiversity and sequestration
Nine out of ten (89%) agreed that farms and crofts should be incentivised to undertake actions which enhance biodiversity; many gave specific and detailed suggestions for measures farmers could take to create or maintain wildlife habitats. Views were mixed on the role of forestry, grazing and livestock numbers in carbon sequestration, but there was clear support for the protection of peatland. Many called for more planting of woodland and hedgerows, or noted the importance of an agroforestry approach or thoughtfully integrating trees into land use. However, there were concerns over excessive or blanket plantations, particularly of non-native or coniferous trees. Another common theme was the need for a joined-up approach to land use planning.
Commercial benefits, sustainable food production and environmental benefits were the most commonly identified opportunities for the sector from a Just Transition. Many thought implementing sustainable practices could enhance profitability by enabling farms to charge a premium for goods produced to high environmental and animal welfare standards. Many noted that farm businesses have a crucial role in ensuring sustainable food production and can contribute to enhanced biodiversity, reduced greenhouse gases, cleaner water, more pleasant landscapes and climate change mitigation more widely. The most frequently mentioned challenge was the financial cost of a Just Transition to net zero. Ingrained or established attitudes and practices and lack of knowledge and skills in the sector were also identified.
Support for incentivising targeted farm plans was the most common theme in relation to improving productivity . However, there was uncertainty about the definition of productivity; respondents were unsure if productivity was an indicator of profitability, higher production figures, or if it could encompass environmental impact. Just over half (56%) disagreed that future support should be dependent on improvements in productivity, with many expressing a preference for support based on positive environmental impact over time.
Research and development
Two thirds (66%) agreed additional measures were needed to ensure research supports the agricultural sector to meet its climate change targets. Many identified areas for further research, including into agroecological farming and carbon sequestration. The need for clear and accessible communication of research to farmers and supporting them to implement research recommendations was also highlighted.
Knowledge and skills
Several highlighted that knowledge, skills and innovation will be crucial for transformational change in agriculture and in ensuring the sector adopts best practice. Most reaffirmed the need for targeted, tailored action for farm businesses, calling for more individualised support, peer-to-peer knowledge exchange, local discussion groups and improved access to skills development opportunities. Respondents were split on whether continuing professional development (CPD) should be a condition of publicly-funded support.
There were calls for a shorter supply chain to encourage food production and consumption centred on local suppliers and home grown produce. An emphasis on transparency and traceability in the supply chain could also highlight green credentials. The benefits of gaining farm assurance were commonly identified, but several felt that farm assurance schemes only require compliance with minimum standards, and others described them as inadequate, lacking credibility and ineffectual at assuring product quality.
A large number of individuals and stakeholders with detailed knowledge took part in the consultation. The views expressed in the consultation provide a useful evidence base for the Scottish Government and the Agriculture Reform Implementation Oversight Board to draw on when developing the Agriculture Bill. However, given the variation in perspectives, priorities and concerns it is likely the proposals will not satisfy all stakeholders.
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