Publication - Independent report

Arable Climate Change Group - a new blueprint for Scotland's arable sector: report

Published: 21 Jul 2021

Report from the Arable 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.

Arable Climate Change Group - a new blueprint for Scotland's arable sector: report
Annex 1 – Arable in numbers

Annex 1 – Arable in numbers

Scottish Agriculture in the context of the Scottish Government Climate Change Plan 2018-2032 - 6 outcomes for agriculture

In December 2020 the Scottish Government published an update to its Climate Change Plan 2018-2032, setting out the path to a low carbon economy while helping to deliver sustainable economic growth and secure the wider benefits to a greener, fairer, and healthier Scotland in 2032. Part 3: Chapter 7 8 (p182) discusses the agriculture sector and current actions; Annex A (p236) further sets out 6 outcomes for the agricultural sector, with associated policies and proposals. The 6 outcomes are highlighted below:

1. A more productive, sustainable agriculture sector that significantly contributes towards delivering Scotland's climate change, and wider environmental, outcomes through an increased uptake of climate mitigation measures by farmers, crofters, land managers and other primary food producers.

2. More farmers, crofters, land managers and other primary food producers are aware of the benefits and practicalities of cost-effective climate mitigation measures.

3. Nitrogen emissions, including from nitrogen fertiliser, will have fallen through a combination of improved understanding, efficiencies and improved soil condition.

4. Reduced emissions from red meat and dairy through improved emissions intensity.

5. Reduced emissions from the use and storage of manure and slurry.

6. Carbon sequestration and existing carbon stores on agricultural land have helped to increase and maintain our carbon sink.

The ACCG consider outcomes 1, 2, 3, and 6 to be relevant to the arable sector, and Annex 1 outlining practical measures aligns each option to the relevant CCP outcome.

It was also important to the group to consider how progress will be measured in relation to these outcomes, with a particular focus on the National Inventory. The group also recognised the opportunities for income generation open to land managers through sequestration, but the group are keen that carbon credits earned through the mitigation measures put in place by farmers are retained by the sector.

The role of the arable/horticulture sector in relation to outcomes

Large reductions in emissions are required from all sectors of the Scottish economy to meet Scotland's legally binding 2045 Net Zero target, and the 75% target by 2030. In 2018 agriculture represented 18% of Scotland's emissions, or 7.5 MtCO2e. The Scottish Government's Climate Change Plan update requires a 31% reduction in agricultural emissions by 2032, a pace nearly four times faster than historic declines.

Emissions from the arable sector account for around 1.6 MtCO2e, or 21% of total

agricultural emissions. Around 60% of emissions relate to N02 derived from fertiliser and soil management with the remainder being CO2 largely from farm vehicles.

Evidence suggests precision application of nitrogen and lime in addition to increased legume rotations and pH management are the areas where significant contribution is most feasible. Evidence provided by Rural Environment Science and Analytical Services Division of the Scottish Government, (RESAS)[5] suggests that increased adoption of these measures could deliver reductions in the region of 0.3 MtCO2e, if applied to their maximum technical capacity based on current levels of arable land. This would equate to 19% reduction of arable emissions and would not be sufficient to meet agriculture's envelopes by 2032, even if matched with equivalent reductions across all sectors. In fact it would fall short of targets by around a third.

Data on CO2 emissions from machinery and vehicles associated with arable and horticulture is derived from a model using units of machinery (combines, tractors, etc.) and estimates of utilisation and fuel efficiency. Currently, there is limited data routinely available regarding the use of renewables and biofuels to replace the use of fossil fuels in mobile machinery, and to improve the accuracy of inventory reporting will require more data gathering/research across the sector.

The group believe that there are longer term gains for the sector in adoption of renewable technologies including electric vehicles, development of battery storage which will build on the existing use of renewables in fixed equipment such as grain dryers/climate control systems. The group would recommend that data gathering and research continues and that in the meantime businesses are supported to increase the proportion of renewable energy used in both fixed and mobile machinery, as well as where practical reducing overall energy use.

SRUC estimates suggest that of the necessary 0.46 Mt reduction required, a realistic estimate from implementation of the agronomic measures described on p13 is 0.24 Mt. This is because some measures cannot be carried out on the same land in certain combinations, or may be less effective if they are. This is mainly related to the combined uptake of slurry measures, pH management, variable liming, nitrification inhibitors and legumes on the same land. The group recognises that while technological advances will help to reduce this gap there is a need to drive uptake of these measures as high as possible and in addition to promote other measures as set out in Annex 3 if targets are to be met.

The group recognises that further work will be required to put realistic figures on the impact on emissions of our recommendations and on costs of implementation. This work will be key in development of the framework in conjunction with a farmer-led implementation group.

The Climate Change Committee[6] states changes in farming practices, woodland planting, and reductions in cattle numbers are all required to achieve Net Zero. However, the ACCG believe that this process, and the introduction of the Climate Smart Agriculture Framework, represents an opportunity to find action-orientated ways of balancing improved productivity with climate change mitigation.

The group have therefore considered a wide scope of practical measures, including some that require further research and development to support feasibility and potential impact. The group have also considered practical measures in the context of Scottish Government targets on biodiversity, recognising the impact the sector has on habitats and species diversity.