Publication - Consultation paper

Agricultural transition - first steps towards our national policy: consultation

Published: 25 Aug 2021

This consultation provides an overview of the key themes and recommendations emerging from the Farmer Led Group process, setting out a number of key questions to inform wider work on the development of agricultural policy and in particular the replacement to CAP.

Agricultural transition - first steps towards our national policy: consultation
Section 2 - Overview of FLG Recommendations

Section 2 - Overview of FLG Recommendations

Climate Change

Reducing GHG emissions was core to the work of the Farmer Led Groups. All the reports included numerous mitigation measures and recommendations for wider initiatives. These provide a substantial basis for reducing the sectors' GHG emissions (agriculture needs to reduce its emissions by 31% from current levels by 2032, to meet its envelope under the Climate Change Plan Update[7] (CCPu.)

The reports include recommendations for specific technology and efficiency measures that are intended to directly reduce emissions (and emissions intensity) from agriculture as well as other practical steps and proposals that will enable or encourage farmers towards reducing emissions. Somerecommendations may inform progress towards climate change envelopes (e.g. peer collaboration or carbon audits).

A number of the recommendations also have the potential to reduce emissions outside of agriculture, such as under the Land Use, Land-Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF)[8] and/or energy sector envelopes. The Groups observed that an individual farm business might contribute to both the LULUCF and Agriculture sectors of the GHG inventory. They also understood that the introduction of forestry, hedgerows, and other changes to land use would not contribute towards the GHG reductions required within the Agriculture sector of the CCPu. There was a clear call for research and development, particularly with respect to national inventory(s).

There was consensus of the need for businesses to clearly understand the starting position if progress towards the emission reduction targets are to be achieved. There was also broad agreement for universally adopted methodologies for the collection, analysis, application and sharing of data to inform decision making/actions on farm. However, there was less agreement on what data might ultimately be used for and by whom e.g. underpinning future support, business to business assurance, business to consumer assurance.

The provision of data with respect to conditionality was also a significant issue for the Groups. All the reports emphasised requirements for soil testing, carbon audits and biodiversity assessments or audit as being necessary to access public funding.

The Groups advocated an integrated cross sectoral approach to addressing the challenges of climate change, e,g, through Integrated Farm Management Plans or Whole farm approaches. Some of the groups also recommended new approaches to tackling climate change, e.g. shared brokerage for carbon credits.

The greenhouse gas emissions inventory was highlighted as an area for further development, to ensure it reflects modern agricultural methods and the Scottish context.

Land Use

The Groups addressed land use in two main ways. The main approach of the Hill Upland and Crofting Group (HUCG) examined changes from agriculture into other land uses such as peatland or forestry. Others, such as the Arable Group, focused more on changes of land use in terms of alternative cultivation systems and crop rotations incorporating, for example, more legumes or novel crops to assist in reducing GHG emissions or deliver environmental benefits.

The HUCG gave over a significant proportion of their consideration to peatland restoration and management. They also received evidence relating to commercial forestry, agroforestry and the challenges or competing requirements of deer and sporting estate management to peatland restoration or agroforestry.

There was very limited support across all groups for significant land use change from agricultural use to forestry, with firm views being expressed about loss of productive agricultural land to forestry. However there was strong agreement for an increased role for woodlands/agro-forestry/hedgerows alongside peatland/wetland restoration.


It is recognised that we are facing not just a climate emergency, but also a biodiversity crisis. The Farmer Led Groups were therefore asked to take account of improving biodiversity and wider environmental benefits in their work. The Hill Upland and Crofting Group in particular, had an interest given the importance of High Nature Value farming in those areas. The Group was very clear that biodiversity should be recognised as an output alongside agricultural activity.

This group had a number of helpful suggestions around improving biodiversity and wider environmental benefits, including the importance of appropriate grazing management with future support being linked to delivering biodiversity benefits and environmental enhancements. Across the groups there were also suggestions for enhancing biodiversity centred on actions across peatland, wetland and woodland creation and management; preventing habitat loss and damage; and promoting natural regeneration. There is acknowledgement that it will be important to seek actions that support both emissions reduction, enhancing biodiversity and wider environmental outcomes.

There are opportunities to build on this work by considering targeted biodiversity measures or nature based solutions through the integration of wider environment and ecosystem services across farm landscapes e.g. water quality and reduced diffuse pollution.

The Arable Group set out a proposal for the development of an Integrated Farm Management (IFM) approach, delivering biodiversity improvements and wider environmental benefits (similar to the LEAF Marque Standard)[9].

Most of the Groups proposed a baseline environmental audit as an essential part of any future mechanisms based on conditionality.

Business Growth

All the groups emphasised the importance of maintaining agricultural activity and food supply and thus avoid offshoring of GHG emissions. There was a consensus around need to increase business efficiencies to deliver GHG emission reductions and improved business performance in areas such as breeding management, health and welfare, nutrition grazing management, soil health and use of nutrients.

The groups were very clear about the need to strengthen the role of producers in the supply chain and suggested a number of ways this could be achieved, including the development of quality marks or brands to boost business performance through the reinforcement of the green credentials of Scottish Agriculture.

Increased use of technology and data coupled with appropriate training and skills was considered crucial for business development as were improvements to the food supply chain.

Policy Frameworks

All the groups agreed that radical change was required with respect to the policy framework, the nature of public support and the need to focus on outcomes, with several approaches suggested. These will be considered in the context of the specific recommended actions and as part of the wider policy development process but is likely to include options, as suggested by the Farmer Led Group, based on a Climate Smart Agriculture framework road map to the adoption of mitigation practices that lead to reduced emissions and the sustainability of agricultural incomes.

High Level Analysis of the Farmer Led Groups Recommendation

Section 3 captures the key issues emerging from the Farmer Led Group process and asks key questions on these issues and the recommendations. To assist you in developing your response to these questions the Scottish Government has carried out an assessment on the recommendations provided and how they can contribute to helping the sector meet the statutory climate change targets as set by Parliament which requires Agriculture to reduce its emissions from current levels by 2.4 MtCO2e by 2032, a reduction of 31%, to meet its envelope under the Climate Change Plan update (CCPu).

Working in conjunction with ClimateXchange, we commissioned sector experts at SRUC to assess the potential impact of mitigation measures in agriculture, drawing in a wide range of Scotland specific and international studies[10]. The mitigation measures, and potential emission savings identified in this report were then cross referred to the quantifiable recommendations in the Farmer Led Groups reports to produce an overall assessment of the emission savings which they could potentially achieve.

In doing so it was noted that the understanding of the emission savings that individual measures can achieve continues to evolve as new scientific evidence becomes available and is also highly contingent on policies applied to encourage or mandate them. Likewise, the range of technical measures which can be adopted by the agriculture sector is constantly changing as new products and processes enter the market. This pace of change is expected to accelerate in the coming years as more countries accelerate the decarbonisation of their agricultural sectors.

The analysis to date suggests that the quantifiable measures in the reports could provide abatement of up to around 1 MtCO2e, 40% of the necessary reductions, if applied to their maximum technical potential by all relevant farmers. The policy mechanisms to deliver these measures will be a key driver of their uptake and voluntary uptake may only go so far. In addition, where further research is required before measures can be deployed at scale, it will take time for the emission reductions to be achieved. For example, methane inhibitors, which a number of studies suggest have the potential to substantially reduce emissions from livestock, are not yet commercially available in Scotland.

Whilst this analysis helpfully suggests that adopting the Farmer Led Group recommendations can make significant progress on GHG reduction for the sector it also highlights the very substantial remaining challenge that a very significant reduction of at least 1.4 MtCO2e or 60% of GHG emissions is still to be addressed.