New Rural Support Scheme development - evidence: outputs summary

This synthesis report covers twelve written reports providing evidence reviews, analysis, summaries and expert briefings on agriculture in Scotland to shape future policy to help deliver sustainable food production that tackles climate change and nature restoration.

W9 Calving Intervals in Scotland's Cattle Population: Conditionality Options

Authors: Steven Thomson, Ian Archibald, Mark Lawson, Tim Geraghty, Andrew Moxey and Mike Coffey

Ref: RESAS/005/21 – W9

The Report is available in the supporting documents of this publication.

Key Points

The Scottish Government is committed to developing a future framework of direct agricultural support payments with enhanced conditionality attached. Particular attention is being paid to reducing greenhouse gas emissions from the beef herd.

Calving Interval is a key efficiency metric for beef production, along with heifer calving age, mortality rates, age at slaughter and time to dispose of cows at the end of their breeding life. Longer calving intervals equate to longer periods during which a cow is incurring maintenance costs (e.g., feed, veterinary care) but also emitting greenhouse gases without contributing to actual beef production.

Using CTS data, calving intervals were estimated for all animals in the Scottish beef breeding herd over the period 2015-21. Comparative analysis of calving intervals is presented here in tabular, chart and map form, for different structural and geographical categories.

The mean calving interval across all animals is c.400 days, higher than the median of less than 370 days due to a long tail of longer intervals. For example, the worst 10% of animals have a calving interval of c.480s days. This equates to each of them emitting c.0.9t CO2e more between calvings than the median animal.

Within this national picture, there is considerable variation both within and across categories. For example, herd type and size, region and breed type. Confounding factors (i.e., interactions) are likely to be present, but the estimates nevertheless indicate widespread scope for technical performance improvements to calving intervals and hence to greenhouse gas emissions.

Under current Scottish Suckler Beef Support Schemes the only conditions that farmers have to meet are that a calf has 75% beef genetics and is alive in the business for 30 days from birth. Extending these to include calving interval offers an opportunity to introduce meaningful conditionality, and would help to deliver 50% of support having enhanced conditionality by 2025.

Although headage payments are envisaged as lying within Tier 4 of the proposed 4-tier model of support, they will operate in tandem with Tier 1 and Tier 2 area payments and offer an obvious way of imposing conditionalities on beef production.

However, given variation in current calving intervals, choice of appropriate performance intervals will need careful consideration– not least in the context of the Islands (Scotland) Act 2019.

There is scope to 'ramp-up' any introduced calving interval conditionality over time in order to support a 'just transition' whilst targeting support towards this and other technical efficiency measures that can reduce emissions from the suckler breeding herd.

Potential emissions savings from improved calving interval conditionality threshold are difficult to estimate. However, it is estimated that every 5 day reduction in mean calving interval from the 2021 average of 400 days would lead to estimated 39.2kg CO2e per cow (on average) or 12.5kt CO2e (1.25%) being saved from total 2021 cow (excluding heifers) emissions of 996 kt CO2e.



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