Dairy Sector Climate Change Group: report

Report from the Dairy Sector Climate Change Group, one of the farmer-led groups established to develop advice and proposals for the Scottish Government. It focusses on how to cut emissions and tackle climate change, something that was re-emphasised in the updated Climate Change Plan.

Annex 3: Farmer Survey

Dairy Sector Climate Change Group

Farmer Call For Evidence: Survey results Summary


1. Introduction

2. Awareness of Scot Gov's net zero greenhouse emission targets

3. Views on Climate Change

4. Carbon Audits

5. Actions flowing from Carbon Audit

6. Businesses who have not undergone a Carbon Audit

7. Farm Management Activities

8. Attitudes to Governments imposing Carbon footprint targets

9. Business Investment

10. Additional Views

1. Introduction

The survey was sent out on social media and attracted 118 respondents. 71 respondents confirmed that they were dairy farmers in Scotland, 3 confirmed that they were not dairy farmers in Scotland, and 44 gave no response.

2. Awareness of Scot Gov's net zero greenhouse emission targets

Q2) Are you aware of the Scottish Government's target to be net Zero in Greenhouse Gas emissions by 2045? (118 responses)

95% of respondents were aware of the Scottish Government target of net zero, with varying degrees of awareness about what this meant for them.

3. Views on Climate Change

Q3) How do you view Climate Change? (118 responses)

86% of respondents felt that climate change presented a serious or the biggest single challenge for Governments. Whilst some were committed to making changes to their business, half of respondents were unsure what they could do to make a difference. A minority (10%) of respondents felt that climate change was overstated and did not see it as a threat to their businesses.

A small number of other views were presented, acknowledging climate change believing that agriculture and dairy did not contribute much to climate change. Others flagged the importance of grass fed regimes and the role it can play in sequestration. The international dimension of climate change and food production was also cited as a particular problem.

4. Carbon Audits

Q4) Have you had a Carbon foot printing audit carried out on your farm? (118 responses)

Q5) What motivated you to plan/carry out the audit? (83 responses)

Q6) Were the audit results useful & influential on farming decisions? (75 responses)

Of the 118 response to Question 4, over half said that they had undertaken a carbon audit. Of the remaining responses a third had a carbon audit planned within the next 12 months.

Almost half of responses to Question 5 were motivated to undertake a carbon audit because it was a condition of their milk buyers contract. A quarter of them received funding to carry out a carbon audit whilst under 20% did so as part of wider sustainability strategy for their business. Others responding to this question recognised the importance of a carbon audit to help establish a baseline upon which they could then make improvements and reduce carbon emissions.

Almost half (49%) of responses to Question 6 found the audit useful and applied the outputs to inform decision making.

5. Actions flowing from Carbon Audit

Q7) Explain any changes made as a result of your C audit (Total 34 responses)

Respondents briefly explained the changes implemented as a result of the carbon audit. For some the audit reassured them that they were already on the right path. Others recognised that benchmarking was valuable in allowing them to look at business efficiencies.

Changes implemented focused on the following areas:

  • Feed – through reduction of inputs and variation of input types many having removed or reduced soya/palm oil use. Coupled with that was an increased focus in home grown forage and use of grassland. For some, feeding practices had also changed with better monitoring of and more efficient feeding of cows.
  • Energy Use – many respondents had reduced electricity consumption, mainly through the purchase of new, more efficient equipment such as vacuum pumps. Plant washers and water heaters (including use of timers on water heaters). Some businesses had also invested in renewables (wind, solar & biomass).
  • Livestock Efficiency – businesses recognised the need to reduce calving age, monitor calving age and reduce calving interval. The importance of having a breeding strategy (for healthier more efficient stock) and using sexed semen
  • Waste Management – improved slurry management, targeted slurry spreading and monitoring of manure use were key areas for businesses with many actively looking into investments into capital items such as slurry store covers, dribble bars and slurry systems.
  • Field Management – Many respondents had or were looking to reduce and/or increase efficient, targeted use of artificial fertilisers. Businesses were looking at using more clover and mixed species crops as part of wider efforts to enhance the grass sward. Some respondents increased and/or enhanced the accuracy of soil sampling to inform management practices with a view to improving soil fertility, soil structure or better targeted applications of lime. A few businesses undertook work on understanding and enhancing biodiversity on their farms, including woodlands.
  • Milk Yield – there was a recognition of the need to improved home grown forage quality in order to maximise the milk yield per cow.

Q8) Where a carbon audit has not affected decisions or prompted any changes. (61 responses)

Around half of the responses to Question 8 cited the need for capital investment and/ lack of finance/funding to enable them to undertake actions identified in the carbon audit. Others felt that they already had appropriate measures in place. A minority cited a range of issues including: retirement (no plans to make any changes) and not knowing where to start. A few respondents suggested that the audit itself did not take local factors on farm into account. One respondent indicated that a lack of clarity around measurement of carbon output was an issue, making the audit irrelevant.

Q9 If you have completed a Carbon audit, what was your Carbon footprint calculated to be? (70 responses)

Q10) What carbon auditing tool was used if you completed a carbon audit? (70 responses)

Almost half of respondents to question 9 did not know the calculated carbon footprint for their business as a result of a carbon audit. From those that knew their carbon footprint, most had a footprint of between 1 and 1.2kg/litre. Carbon footprints ranged from less than 1kg/litre to more than 1.4kg per litre.

About 40% of responses did not know what tool was used for their carbon audit. Of the remaining responses SAC/AgRECalc was the most popular (30%) followed by Farm Carbon Calculator (10%). A number of other tools were identified, including Promar, Cool Farm tool, Alltech ECO2, Soalgro (JRC), AB Sustaun & the Co-op.

6. Businesses who have not undergone a Carbon Audit

Q11) If you have not carried out a Carbon Audit, what are the reasons? (30 responses)

Of those that had not carried out a Carbon Audit, just over a third of responses had not done so because they had never been required to do one. A quarter of responses felt this was something they had thought about doing but didn't have the knowledge or resources to complete a Carbon audit. 25% of responses cited a range of issues, including: not understanding the benefit of doing one, approaching retirement or new to the sector. The remaining responses had answered the question incorrectly.

7. Farm Management Activities

Q12) Do you undertake any of the following management activities on your farm? (115 responses)

The majority (90%) carry out soil testing and have an animal health plan, closely followed in popularity by fertiliser records and animal nutrition plans (80-90% range). Nutrient and slurry management plans were also popular (70-80% range). Around half of respondents had grass management plans. Just under 30% have fuel and transport records. Hedgerow management plans are least popular (19%).

Chart showing the extent to which different management activities are carried out on surveyed farms

8. Attitudes to Governments imposing Carbon footprint targets

Q13) What is your attitude to Government imposing targets to reduce carbon footprints? (117 responses)

The 117 respondents gave their views on Government imposing targets for farmers to reduce their Carbon footprint linked to access to public funding. Almost 60% of respondents viewed targets as being a good idea to encourage change, but only as a voluntary measure and rewards not to be made available just for those who achieve them but to support other sustainable farming improvements too.

A further 12% agreed strongly that targets be imposed and enshrined in legislation with penalties for failure. One respondent suggested that a support system could incentivise change and be coupled with legislation to address irresponsible behaviour.

A quarter of respondents did not find targets useful, because they cannot account for differences in farming systems. One respondent suggested that government needs to invest in R&D before asking farming to do things that are not proven.

One respondent indicated that rewards should be available to all farmers that are constantly maintaining high levels of soil carbon on a rolling scale to encourage continuous improvement.

9. Business investment

Q14) Have you in the last 2 years, or do you plan within the next 2 years to invest? (94 responses)

Responders set out the areas they had invested in over the past 2 years or were planning on investing in over the next 2 years.

Greatest importance was attached to investment in precision farming methods, on farm renewables, increased efficiency, slurry storage & separation and improved animal health and welfare. This was echoed in responses of the 71 Scottish dairy farmers (see Fig.14). Investment in precision farming technology and improved animal welfare stood out in the responses (49.3% & 42.3% respectively).

A number of detailed responses were offered on intended actions or actions already undertaken around improved efficiency and animal health & welfare, listed below:

Breeding, genetics & genomics

  • Starting to use artificial insemination.
  • gnomically testing heifers, investing in herd genetics.
  • Selective dry cow therapy.
  • Use of sexed semen.
  • reduced age to first calving.
  • Fast breeders project to improve genetic merit and deliver reduced enteric.

Animal Health

  • Proactive herd health checks to reduce calving index and increase lactation productivity.
  • Improving calf growth rates by reducing scour and Pneumonia incidence with vaccination use and improved calf management.
  • Johnes screening and reduction.
  • bvd and rotavec vaccination
  • match stocking density with available land
  • Cow Alert System, health plan with Vet

Animal Housing

  • New young stock shed , made of wood for better welfare
  • New cattle handling system
  • New cubicles and mats for cows.
  • pre & post calving facilities with sand bedded cubicles (for hygiene and health).
  • New cow accommodation, e.g. improve labour efficiency and animal welfare eg separate milking heifer group.

Slurry management

  • New slurry equipment with flow meter to record slurry spreading.
  • Slurry spreading with a trailing shoe.
  • Investing in slurry hover to improve cow hygiene and hopefully foot and udder health.
  • Slurry applied with dribble bar.
  • Slurry storage needed to ensure it is spread when its nutrients will be utilised best.

Milk production

  • build a new parlour to improve efficiency.
  • Installing Robotic Milkers to improve efficiency.
  • Improve milk cooling.

Precision Farming

  • Use precision farming to monitor cow health and nutrition in order to improve efficiency of production and reduce antibiotics usage.
  • Contractors need targeted for the precision farming in particular.

Land Management

  • Not ploughing land to prevent release of carbon into the atmosphere.
  • Improve quality of home grown forage to reduce bought concentrate.
  • improve grazing management and improve silage quality.
  • More milk from forage.
  • Rotational grazing of all stock.
  • planting more hedge plants.
  • Allow hedges to grow higher and wider.
  • Tree planting.
  • Wetland restoration and protection.


  • Reduce energy consumption and become self-sufficient through mixed renewable technology.

Q15) If you have not or do not plan to invest, why? (50 responses)

50 respondents set out their reasons for not having invested or intending to invest in their business. For a significant majority there were two main barriers, firstly the level of capital expenditure required and secondly the risks associated with such high levels of expenditure and the uncertainties around returns on such investments.

Some respondents cited poor milk prices and the need for appropriate returns in order to invest. One respondent suggested that they would do more work if they were better rewarded for outcomes (e.g. recognition of carbon/biodiversity benefits).

10. Additional Views

41 respondents offered a number of points in addition to those offered in response to previous questions. These have been summarised as follows:

Carbon Footprint

A range of views were offered on the dairy sector's carbon footprint and of the sector more generally. There was a recognition that not all farming systems are the same and therefore, a one-size-fits-all approach to becoming net-zero by 2045 was unrealistic.

There were concerns about the use of IPPC default figures for Scottish Ag which put the sector at a disadvantage over others such as Ireland, the Netherlands and USA. There were calls for country specific inventory and method for carbon footprinting.

There were calls for carbon Sequestration to be taken into account in Scotland, with the auditing process and government targets catering for grazing systems as well as more traditional and intensive farming systems.

Related to this was a desire for more scientific research and development on soils and grassland given the importance of soils for the sequestration and storage of carbon. It was suggested that trees are not the be all and end all for carbon sequestration and storage. Some offered practical solutions to improving environmental performance, including the use of anaerobic digestate instead of chemical fertiliser and all milking cows being grazed during summer months.

There was a recognition of the number of carbon calculators available, the many ways in which they deal with sequestration and produce different calculations from the same data, making standardised carbon footprint difficult. There were calls for a standardised approach to allow carbon measurement to be comparable between farmers, both at home and internationally.

It was suggested for example that a carbon score per unit of food on the supermarket shelf be considered (including air miles and the carbon footprint in the country of origin.) On the latter point, linkages to ingredients/ feed inputs such as soya were regarded as something that we need to take account of when measuring and communicating the carbon footprint to consumers.

Supply chain

Respondents felt that they were already doing most actions largely because of the drive to reduce costs and increase efficiencies over many years due to low milk prices. There was some frustration that milk purchasers should not expect to decarbonise their own businesses by passing the buck down the supply chain without rewarding producers. There was a strong belief that processors and supermarkets also need to be accountable for their key role in producing and marketing sustainable, healthy food.

A number of respondents expressed concerns about the importation of cheaper food that is not produced to the same high welfare and green standards. There was also concern about how the various quality assurance schemes such as, Organic, Red Tractor, Supermarket audit schemes and QMS will complement any government action on climate targets. Transportation of food was also cited as a huge contributor to climate change.

Business productivity & efficiency

Animal health was cited as being hugely important to business efficiency and climate change goals, with health planning (e.g. antibiotic use) and setting farm Health KPIs linked to climate goals being the way forward. Some felt that if there was a way to reduce the total weight of stock and have the correct stocking rate on a dairy farm and produce the same amount or more milk then the business will be more financially and environmentally efficient. Being less reliant on bought in feeds was also deemed important (being self-sufficient on home grown inputs). Some were of the view that progress in agriculture (more generally) is hampered by the fact that advice to farmers is part funded by the industry, with research very often commercially driven (i.e. there is no industry wide benefit).

A few respondents suggested that it is less about the system (any system can have a low foot print) and more about how the system is managed by the individual business. For Scottish dairy to remain competitive, it must be seen to be addressing climate change in some way or form, annual soil carbon testing and carbon audits would be the best place to start along with evidence based techniques/systems of farming to help mitigate climate change.

Business investment & Government support

Respondents felt that sufficient Government support would allow investment to be made by the sector to speed movement towards the outcomes required for 2045 net zero. It was anticipated that any government grant scheme would need to run long term to allow businesses to invest when it suits them. Many respondents commented on the need for a Government capital grant scheme to allow businesses to invest in key areas such as technology, slurry storage in order to improve on farm efficiencies. It was also felt that businesses with strong environmental credentials be rewarded, given they put themselves at an economic disadvantage. It was suggested that market driven added value would help the sector to capitalise on it environmental credentials, albeit with the caveat that ongoing low milk prices were a block to investment by business. One respondent suggested that carbon capture be taken into account with businesses being rewarded for this

Energy & renewables

Some respondents felt that access to funding for off grid renewable technology was key. Some also felt that business investments would be easier if power company charges for grid connections were much lower. One respondent cited the role of biomass boilers fuelled by timber grown on the farm having planted woods and hedges around the farm over the years. One respondent felt that whilst there is a place for bio-digesters to make energy they are anything but green, suggesting that fields are cultivated and crops grown using fossil fuels and fertilisers to feed these digesters. The same respondent felt that the land where digester crops are grown could be used to grow food and reduce reliance on imports.

Broader policy questions

A number of more general points were made by respondents. It was recommended that Scottish Government be clear with the sector about the policy, regulatory or fiscal direction of travel on issues such clean air, nitrogen use etc. One respondent called for clarity with respect to the policy position on food production in Scotland. Another asked about dairy sheep and goats, and where they fit into the emerging policy/supporting landscape.

Source: Farmer Call for Evidence: Survey Results Summary (ScotGov DSCCG Secretariat)


Email: are.futureruralframework@gov.scot

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