Suckler Beef Climate Scheme: final report

Final report from the Suckler Beef Climate Group on development and delivery recommendations for sustainable suckler beef production in Scotland.

13. Closing comments

This report presents a comprehensive collection of recommendations put together by the Suckler Beef Climate Group after an extensive initial industry evidence gathering exercise and ongoing literature review. The proposed scheme is by no means a silver bullet, but instead an attempt to capture the concepts of best practice, latest research, and best available technology, and combine these into a workable, meaningful and effective new agricultural support scheme. As such, the scheme seeks to provide the best possible platform to encourage Scottish suckler beef farmers to reduce their net greenhouse gas emissions whilst increasing production-based efficiencies.

The coming months will be used to further develop details of the proposed scheme and design a robust concept of application, implementation and monitoring. This includes further outlining the data evaluation and opportunity scoring aspects. A detailed proposal on the budgetary and cost implications of the scheme to government and individual businesses is being worked on and will be presented to government. Recommendations on the workability of the biodiversity enhancement requirement will be prepared together with the relevant stakeholders.

The emissions abatement modelling prepared by J. Bell et al. (2020) will be developed further and expanded on to include dedicated models for each type of suckler beef system in Scotland in addition to the existing rearer finisher scenarios, and this will form an important and useful core aspect of determining the likely current levels of emissions occurring within different systems, and to what extend these may be reduced by taking different steps. The models are already being worked on and will provide an important basis to the development of this scheme.

While the remit of the Suckler Beef Climate Group was the development of proposals on a workable scheme to make suckler beef production more climate-friendly, it is important to recognise the role that Scottish agriculture plays not only with regards to the climate, but also for the environment and domestic food security. A recently published study states that "reducing carbon emissions is a vital component of sustainable livestock systems, given climate change is our greatest global challenge, but it is not our sole challenge. A single focus on carbon may compromise gains needed in other sustainability metrics, such as food security and food quality, nutrient management, animal welfare, biodiversity, viability of rural communities and long-term farm profitability. This is an opportunity to tackle climate change while building systems that will help to deliver a sustainable farm and food future for our nation." (CIEL – Centre for Innovation Excellence in Livestock, 2020[108])

The Scottish suckler beef herd has already experienced a dramatic decline over the last two decades as a result of policy changes, diseases including Foot and Mouth, and economic pressures. A further reduction of the Scottish suckler beef herd as a result of poor profitability, inadequate support and/or a changing policy landscape would not only impact on domestic food production and security, rural employment, and the contribution of land-based industries to the overall Scottish economy, but may cause the critical mass required to sustain the sector to drop below the threshold of viability across many parts of Scotland, thereby accelerating further losses amongst the suckler beef sector.

Scotland's farmers have served Scotland's economy and communities for decades if not centuries, and they have always managed to respond and react when needed. They managed to significantly increase food production after the war to help get a nation back on its feet, and they curbed back production several decades later when governments were struggling with food mountains. They adopted the use of inputs to boost production when governments encouraged and incentivised it, and they started to cut and reduce the reliance on these inputs when environmental concerns began to emerge.

The farming industry and with it the Scottish suckler beef sector is a big industry to turn around within the space of just a few years, but past experiences have shown that it can react when needed, and is willing to react to do what is deemed best by society and governments. It has proven that it is resilient and adaptable, and it will prove this again by rising to the challenge that is climate change.



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