Publication - Independent report

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.

Suckler Beef Climate Scheme: final report
7. Scheme categories and management options

7. Scheme categories and management options

The scheme will target six main areas of production which have been identified as having the greatest potential to reduce net greenhouse gas efficiencies by improving performance and input utilisation, maintaining current soil carbon stores, and supporting further soil carbon sequestration where this is possible.

The emissions intensity of a suckler beef system can be reduced through better input utilisation and cattle performance, which in turn can be improved by focusing on key factors of production. This may include better breeding management, for instance by optimising herd productivity through careful selection of superior genetic potential to suit a specific system, aided by the use of performance monitoring and data recording technology. Apart from gains that can be made via better cattle breeding management, production-based efficiencies can also be enhanced through an increased focus on better targeting and planning of cattle nutrition and feed rationing, and by carefully managing herd health to ensure that underlying health conditions do not compromise herd productivity.

Further reductions in the emissions intensity and overall emissions associated with the cattle enterprise can likely be gained from better grassland, soil and associated (nutrient) input management. Improved soil management can also benefit the health of the soil, thereby maintaining and potentially increasing soil carbon stores whilst minimising the risk of soil carbon being released into the atmosphere as a result of poor in-field practices.

These key factors determining on-farm greenhouse gas emissions and carbon capture have been grouped into the following six scheme categories which are discussed in more detail in the following chapters:

The graphic illustrates the general approach to management options flowing from scheme categories using Improved production based efficiencies and associated actions around cattle breeding, cattle feeding and cattle health as an example.

There are many actions available to suckler beef producers that can help to improve system-specific performance efficiencies, reduce the environmental impact of suckler beef production, and improve business resilience and profitability.

Different aspects of suckler beef production were reviewed by the Suckler Beef Climate Group and discussed in terms of their likely potential to achieve the aims of the scheme, and any proposed management options were outlined and included on the basis of the following criteria:

  • directly related and relevant to Scottish suckler beef production
  • high impact – easy win scenarios; scheme to focus on obvious options that are widely accepted to deliver the necessary benefits
  • main outcome of these options fits in with the aims of the SBCS
  • the proposed activity is not currently funded through any other scheme(s)

Where possible, further consideration was also given to designing the management options in such a way that ensures the following:

  • option is applicable to different production systems to suit the diverse nature of suckler beef enterprises across Scotland
  • option encourages and allows for continuous improvements to be made to recognise participants at varying stages of production efficiencies
  • option aims to minimise disadvantages and barrier to participation on the basis of a business being
    • a new entrant
    • a small unit
    • orestricted by a short-term tenancy or grazing let
    • olocated in difficult areas in terms of remoteness, accessibility and connectivity
    • osubjected to environmental constraints out with their control

The chosen management options are not aimed at reinventing the wheel. Instead, the scheme seeks to recognise businesses that are already implementing best practice and good management, whilst encouraging and supporting others in adopting and introducing new methods and technology and making changes to their systems to achieve the same efficiency improvements and emissions reductions.

As a result, many of the management options that have been recommended are already in use and in some cases widely adopted as 'normal practice' both within Scotland and across the world. Where possible, the scheme is therefore attempting to encourage further uptake of these best practice measures.

The following chapters provide a more detailed overview of the relevance and aims of each of the above categories along with an introduction to the various proposed management options that will be available to participating businesses to choose from and commit to.

7.1. Improving production-based efficiencies – cattle breeding, performance monitoring and data recording (Category 1)

Aims of category:

This category aims to encourage participating businesses to take steps to reduce the emissions intensity of their cattle production system(s) by

  • improving the fertility and performance of breeding cows and heifers through targeted genetic selection and/or better herd management in order to ensure that breeding females generate optimum returns on inputs;
  • improving the fertility and performance of breeding bulls by carrying out a bull fertility and fitness assessment in order to ensure that breeding males are able to perform and generate optimum returns on inputs;
  • improving store and finishing cattle performance by monitoring their ability to efficiently utilise given inputs in order to highlight weaker aspects of the production system(s) that require attention, and take steps to address these weaknesses accordingly;
  • improving the overall herd productivity, health, and welfare of rearer and finisher units through regular and/or continuous performance monitoring and recording (using precision livestock technology where applicable), and subsequent data-driven decision-making to enable better cattle management.

Relevance: Efficient cattle breeding, or the ability of a breeding cow or bull to convert inputs into live calves, is crucial to ensure that inputs and on-farm resources generate suitable returns. Increasing the number and/or genetic potential of the calves reared from a given number of breeding females helps to dilute such inputs and their emissions across a greater quantity of outputs, thereby improving the overall emissions intensity, efficiency and profitability of a breeding herd. If individual animals show a poor breeding performance as a result of fertility problems or other underlying genetic or management issues, this reduces the productivity of the suckler herd as a whole, thereby increasing greenhouse gas emissions per unit of output and potentially overall emissions whilst limiting cattle enterprise profitability.

The genetic potential of the breeding herd feeds directly into store and finishing cattle performance which is ultimately defined and limited by a combination of genetic factors, input management and general stockmanship. Targeted breeding, feeding and health management of suckler and/or finishing cattle significantly helps to optimise cattle performance and productivity, thereby improving production efficiencies and reducing the emissions intensity from the production system. This can be greatly enhanced and supported by carrying out relevant performance recording in order to highlight underlying whole herd management issues or identify individual animals that are impacting on the overall herd productivity.

In order for performance monitoring and recording, and subsequent decision-making on the basis of such records to be effective, it is important to assess performance traits that are of actual environmental and economic relevance. Apart from the most commonly used expressions to identify herd productivity such as the calving percentage, the use of a variety of general key performance indicators (KPIs) and the application of an effective breeding and culling strategy using multi-trait selection can feed into better targeted and informed decision-making to accelerate genetic and production improvements.

The adoption and installation of electronic equipment to monitor cattle, record relevant performance data such as weights, and analyse and review that data for informed decision-making can significantly help to improve the efficiency of the production system and optimise herd performance by supporting physical stockmanship with technological assistance that can offer more detailed and accurate supervision or data collection.

Significance: Research investigating the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through livestock breeding and performance management identified the suckler beef industry as having significant potential to reduce emissions by improving breeding herd management, particularly through improved animal performance recording for better selection. The study states that "… genetic improvement in the beef sector has been slower and unlocking the untapped genetic potential in the beef cattle population may be aided by schemes that improve the recording of animal performance data…" (M. MacLeod et al., 2019[22]). According to a DEFRA study (2008)[23], a widespread uptake of improved cattle breeding management in line with improvements already being achieved by the most progressive breeders could lead to a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from beef production of 5% over a period of 15 years.

7.1.1. Whole herd breeding efficiency

Relevance: The ability of the breeding herd to achieve and maintain optimum productivity is crucial to ensure that the production system is utilising inputs efficiently, and a core aspect to achieving this is the production of a live calf. Herd data pulled from the Cattle Tracing System (CTS) and prepared by J. Bell et al. (2020)[24] shows that there are herds that already achieve a 100% rearing percentage, i.e. every cow produces a live calf for selling or to retain as a replacement. However, a study undertaken by T. Geraghty (2018)[25] which assessed the performance of more than 1,800 suckler cows found that on average these herds only managed to achieve a rearing percentage of 82.4% and 83% respectively over two consecutive years. Of the cows that failed to rear a calf, 44% and 55% respectively were unproductive as a result of fertility issues. The above data suggests that there is a great need and potential to focus on targeted breeding management in order to improve the performance of the Scottish suckler herd and reduce the associated emissions intensity. Studies carried out by a range of organisations including WWF Scotland (N. Lampkin et al., 2019[26]) and Defra (2008)[27] have highlighted that there is a greater need to focus on genetic progress to improve productivity in the context of reducing emissions intensities from livestock production system. Breeding efficiencies can be improved by assessing whole herd performance as well as individual animal performance, each forming crucial aspects of good cattle management. Identifying whole herd productivity by using a range of key performance indicators (KPIs) can help to determine whether there are any aspects of the reproductive performance that may be compromised as a result of underlying whole herd management issues that require systemic management changes rather than being the result of individual unproductive breeding females.

KPIs have been recognised at industry and government level as being an extremely useful tool to combine business performance assessment with environmental considerations (S. Hewitt, 2018[28]; Defra, 2006[29]).

Aim: This management option aims to encourage participants to assess the annual average breeding performance of the herd as a whole using multi-trait assessment via a range of KPIs. The assessment will help to highlight areas where breeding herd management shows potential for improvement in order to enable informed decision-making and to carry out targeted adjustments to the production system to ultimately boost the production performance of the breeding herd.

Apart from the most common breeding herd management tools available to farmers to improve whole herd performance, this may also include the introduction of high fertility and performance genetics through the use of artificial insemination, or reducing the calving period by synchronising breeding females amongst others. An increased whole herd productivity will lead to better resource and input utilisation, thereby reducing the emissions intensity of the cattle system and increasing enterprise profitability.

Emissions abatement potential: According to emissions modelling data provided by J. Bell et al. (2020), increasing the rearing percentage on a rearer finishing unit by 4% can reduce the emissions intensity of the cattle enterprise by 1.4%. This could for instance be achieved by improving whole herd breeding efficiencies. Although 1.4% may not appear to be a significant direct saving, increasing the number and/or quality of calves reared can potentially lead to notable indirect emissions reductions. According to the National Beef Association[30], the UK is only 75% self-sufficient with regards to domestic beef consumption. Improving herd performance through greater outputs from a given number of breeding females boosts domestic food production and security, thereby reducing the need for any shortfalls to be met via imported produce that may have incurred greater greenhouse gas emissions during production and transportation. Although the total emissions abatement potential from improving whole herd breeding efficiencies would need to be further quantified, it may be challenging to obtain the relevant data for imported beef.

Assessment option: Participating businesses should identify the average breeding efficiency of the whole herd on an annual basis by using the following key performance indicators, and utilise the resulting data to address any weaker aspects of the whole herd management system:

  • calving percentage
  • rearing percentage
  • cow calving period
  • heifer calving period

The data required to calculate the above individual KPIs can be drawn from the regularly updated CTS (Cattle Tracing System) database, thereby allowing for easy and robust validation of the results.

Applicability: This management option is applicable to suckler herds, which may include both store producers and rearer finisher units. Store producers and finisher units are encouraged to exchange relevant performance data to help accelerate whole herd efficiency improvements.

7.1.2. Cow efficiency

Relevance: The ability of breeding females to achieve and maintain optimum productivity is crucial to enabling efficient input utilisation within a given production system. Herd data pulled from the Cattle Tracing System (CTS) and prepared by J. Bell et al. (2020)[31] shows that there are herds that already achieve a 100% rearing percentage, i.e. every cow produces a live calf for selling or to retain as a replacement. However, a study undertaken by T. Geraghty (2018)[32] which assessed the performance of more than 1,800 suckler cows found that on average these herds only managed to achieve a rearing percentage of 82.4% and 83% respectively over two consecutive years. Of the cows that failed to rear a calf, 44% and 55% respectively were unproductive as a result of fertility issues. The above data suggests that there is a great need and potential to focus on targeted breeding management in order to improve the performance of the Scottish suckler herd and reduce the associated emissions intensity. Studies carried out by a range of organisations including WWF Scotland (N. Lampkin et al., 2019[33]) and Defra (2008)[34] have highlighted that there is a greater need to focus on genetic progress to improve productivity in the context of reducing emissions intensities from livestock production system. Breeding efficiency can be improved by assessing whole herd performance as well as individual animal performance, each forming crucial aspects of good cattle management: Assessing the productivity of individual cows by using a multi-trait assessment and selection approach which uses a range of key performance indicators (KPIs) can help to highlight if there are any aspects of the reproductive performance that may be compromised as a result of an inferior genetic potential of that particular animal to thrive and provide optimum performance within a given farm system environment. This allows for targeted culling of inferior and unproductive cows, thereby helping to improve the environmental and economic efficiency of the whole herd.

Aim: This management option aims to encourage participants to assess the breeding performance of individual breeding females using a range of KPIs. This will help to highlight cows of lesser productivity, i.e. a lower overall production potential or lesser suitability to thrive and perform within a specific production system, and enables for informed decision-making to carry out targeted culling of such animals and retain superior breeding females in order to boost the production performance of the whole herd. An effective culling strategy of poorer animals will help to achieve better resource and input utilisation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions per unit of output and increase cattle enterprise profitability.

Emissions abatement potential: According to emissions modelling data provided by J. Bell et al. (2020), increasing the rearing percentage on a rearer finishing unit by 4% can reduce the emissions intensity of the cattle enterprise by 1.4%. This could for instance be achieved by improving individual breeding cow efficiencies. Although 1.4% may not appear to be a significant direct saving, increasing the number and/or quality of calves reared can potentially lead to notable indirect emissions reductions. According to the National Beef Association[35], the UK is only 75% self-sufficient with regards to domestic beef consumption. Improving herd performance through greater outputs from a given number of breeding females boosts domestic food production and security, thereby reducing the need for any shortfalls to be met via imported produce that may have incurred greater greenhouse gas emissions during production and transportation. Although the total emissions abatement potential from improving breeding cow efficiencies would need to be further quantified, it may be challenging to obtain the relevant data for imported beef.

Assessment option: Participating businesses should identify the breeding efficiency of individual females on an annual basis by using the following multi-trait assessment to apply an effective breeding and culling strategy:

  • current reproductive success, i.e. barren or rearing a calf
  • calving ease
  • mothering ability
  • calf vigour
  • weaning weight ratio
  • historic rearing percentage for second calvers and older cows

A large proportion of the data required to calculate the above individual KPIs for each cow relies on accurate record keeping by the farmer due to some of the relevant data not being available on the CTS database.

However, this particular management option does not reward businesses for achieving better average performance. Instead, it seeks to encourage participating farmers to assess individual cow performance by using different KPIs, and to rank the cows from most to least productive in order for the poorest performing females to be culled. It is therefore in the interest of the participating business to ensure that their record keeping is accurate so that they retain superior and better-performing cows.

Applicability: This management option is applicable to suckler herds, which may include both store producers and rearer finisher units. Store producers and finisher units are encouraged to exchange relevant performance data to help accelerate individual cow efficiency improvements.

7.1.3. Bull efficiency

Relevance: An efficient production system relies on careful bull selection and management to ensure that the sire's genetics complement the genetic characteristics of the breeding herd and meet the requirements of a specific production system, farming environment, and market outlet. Accessing genetic traits that help the herd achieve and maintain optimum productivity is important to enable efficient input utilisation within a given production system. This leads to a lower emissions intensity of the cattle enterprise, thereby lowering greenhouse gas emissions for each unit of output produced and sold off-farm. Such genetic improvement, accelerated through careful bull selection and performance assessment of the bull's offspring, is only possible if the bull is actually capable of producing offspring through good fertility, as well as a physical ability to mount the cow where natural mating takes place. A study undertaken by T. Geraghty (2018)[36] found that fertility issues were the single major factor depressing the calving and rearing percentage of the assessed cattle herds. Whilst one infertile cow means the loss of (typically) one live calf to the system, one infertile bull has far greater implications for overall herd productivity as a result of failing to impregnate a potentially large group or proportion of breeding females. According to P. J. Chenoweth and F. J. McPherson (2016)[37], as little as 65% of bulls being subjected to a bull breeding soundness examination are classed as satisfactory potential breeders. This leaves approximately one third of bulls being deemed unsuitable for breeding purposes, and quite clearly highlights the need to carry out thorough bull assessments in order to prevent sub-fertile bulls from stifling genetic improvements within the Scottish suckler beef herd.

Aim: This management option aims to encourage participants to assess the fertility and physical ability and fitness of breeding stock bulls via vet inspection in line with official guidance on bull pre-breeding examination as outlined by the British Cattle Veterinary Association. This will help to highlight any bulls with sub- or infertility issues, or where there are concerns about their physical fitness and ability to successfully mate, and enables for informed decision-making to carry out targeted culling of infertile or unfit bulls to ultimately boost the production performance of the breeding herd, thereby achieving better resource and input utilisation to reduce emissions intensities and increase cattle enterprise profitability.

Emissions abatement potential: According to emissions modelling data provided by J. Bell et al. (2020), increasing the rearing percentage on a rearer finishing unit by 4% can reduce the emissions intensity of the cattle enterprise by 1.4%. This could for instance be achieved by ensuring that only fertile bulls are being used. Although 1.4% may not appear to be a significant direct saving, increasing the number and/or quality of calves reared can potentially lead to notable indirect emissions reductions.

According to the National Beef Association[38], the UK is only 75% self-sufficient with regards to domestic beef consumption. Improving herd performance through greater outputs from a given number of breeding females boosts domestic food production and security, thereby reducing the need for any shortfalls to be made up with via imported produce that may have incurred greater greenhouse gas emissions during production and transportation. The total emissions abatement potential from improving breeding bull efficiencies would therefore need to be further quantified, although it may be challenging to obtain the relevant data for imported beef.

Assessment option: Participating businesses should complete an annual vet inspection of individual stock bulls before the start of mating to determine the bulls as satisfactory or unsatisfactory for breeding, and carry out culling of unsuitable breeding males accordingly. The assessment includes an analysis of semen viability as well as a physical fitness examination of reproductive organs, heart and lungs, general mobility, eyes and mouth, and must be carried out by a vet with appropriate BCVA (British Cattle Veterinary Association) certification[39] to carry out a full pre-breeding bull examination. Participants are furthermore encouraged not to purchase breeding bulls unless these have recently passed their breeding examination.

Applicability: This management option is applicable to suckler herds, which may include both store producers and rearer finisher units, and includes systems using natural mating and/or artificial insemination.

7.1.4. Age at calving

Relevance: The amount of unproductive time spent on-farm, that is without producing a calf, can significantly influence the emissions intensity of individual cattle and the whole system due to the emissions of such animals having to be carried by the outputs generated by productive cows. An effective way to reduce the proportion of unproductive youngstock is to reduce the number of replacement females that the system has to support, or their unproductive time spent on the farm. There are different ways in which different types of production systems can achieve this, namely by increasing the longevity of breeding cows which enables businesses to reduce their annual replacement rate, or by reducing the age at first calving which reduces the unproductive time spent on-farm by the individual replacement heifer. Where the age at first calving can be reduced without compromising cow longevity, this can deliver multiple environmental and economic benefits by reducing both the number of replacement heifers as well as their time spent as unproductive animals. This requires careful heifer management to find the optimum balance between boosting productivity without compromising sustainability.

Aim: This management option aims to encourage participants to review their current production system and explore options to reduce the age at first calving. The review should be carried out in the context of environmental and production variables that ultimately determine the cattle type that can be supported by the system. Where a system can support early-maturing cattle, accurate feed rationing together with a carefully outlined breeding management plan, for instance by accessing superior genetic potential through genomic trait selection, artificial insemination and the use of robust EBVs, can offer an effective means to reduce the age at first calving. This can deliver distinct benefits by not only cutting greenhouse gas emissions, but also by allowing for a quicker assessment of the breeding performance and potential of a cow to be made without the need to have to wait an extra year, which can lead to quicker genetic progress. Reducing the age at calving can under some circumstances be used as a helpful management tool to artificially reduce mature cow size, thereby lowering the amount of feeding that has to be provided solely to cover maintenance purposes. Where a breeding female is deemed unsuitable for breeding due to producing a poor calf or not rearing a calf at all, her younger age means that her cull value is likely to be higher.

The decision to reduce the age at first calving should only be made if this can realistically be achieved with the inputs and resources available to a given system, and where a system can support an earlier-maturing cattle type. In such a case, carefully planned breeding and feeding management can offer an efficient and effective way to enable maiden heifers to reach a suitable mating weight at a younger age.

However, it should be stressed that care has to be taken to maintain the health, welfare and well-being of breeding females at all times, and it is therefore strongly recommended that systems switching to a younger age at first calving should make use of internal pelvic scoring in order to ensure that their heifers have the pelvic capacity to deliver the calf without difficulties. An easy-calving sire should also be chosen and where systems experience increasing or otherwise notable calving difficulties, or struggle to get first calvers back in calf again, they are strongly advised to revisit their policy regarding age at first calving.

It should also be noted that reducing the age at first calving is not a feasible option for many systems due to environmental constraints or management, input and resource availability constraints, a focus on grass-based production, or other important factors dictating or determining what type of cattle and breeding strategy best suits their specific system. That does not mean that these systems are by default less efficient. A focus on working with good maternal bloodlines to maximise cow longevity can deliver quite distinct environmental and economic benefits as well. A greater longevity means that the business can afford to run a lower replacement rate, thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions associated with unproductive replacement animals on the farm. A higher longevity also means that superior cows will over their productive lifetime produce more calves and potential replacement heifers, which can offer a different means of obtaining quick genetic progress.

Emissions abatement potential: According to emissions modelling data provided by J. Bell et al. (2020), reducing the age at first calving for heifers on a rearer finisher unit from 36 months down to 24 months can reduce the emissions intensity of the cattle enterprise by up to 6.9%. Some additional emissions reductions can also be achieved as a result of reducing the mature cow size by calving heifers at a younger age.

Using the same modelling approach provided by J. Bell et al. (2020), a rearer finisher system could reduce its emissions intensity by up to 8% by calving its heifers younger and as a result reducing cow size by 10% from 700kg down to 630kg.

Assessment option: Participating businesses should review their current production system to identify opportunities to reduce the age at first calving downwards, for example through better nutritional management to access the genetic potential for early growth and development where an early-maturing cattle type can be used within a given system.

Applicability: This management option is applicable to suckler herds, which may include both store producers and rearer finisher units, but may be less suited to more extensive farming units working with lower-input, native and/or slower-maturing cattle that are better suited to their particular system, environment and input/resource availability.

7.1.5. Genetic progress

Relevance: The genetic potential of an animal is determined by careful selection of its dam and sire, and this potential in turn determines the likely performance of that animal within a given environment. Assessing the breeding efficiency of the whole herd or individual breeding females and bulls using a range of key performance indicators can offer significant opportunities to identify superior and inferior cattle, or animals more suited for a specific production system, thereby enabling for targeted breeding and culling to take place to accelerate performance and efficiency improvements across the whole herd. This approach to achieving genetic improvements can be enhanced by making use of additional genetic and/or genomic information. Whether that includes the selection of the best genetic potential from maternal lines on the farm to produce homebred replacement females from known bloodlines in order to accelerate genetic progress, accessing high-performance bull genetics via artificial insemination, or the purchase of the bull with the most promising genetic/genomic profile to complement the genetics and performance of the breeding females, there are a range of programmes already in use across the suckler beef industry that can assess the likely breeding value of individual animals and capture very specific data about hereditary traits and likely performance levels of different bloodlines. It is therefore important to recognise the significant potential and make use of such data to achieve improvements in on-farm efficiencies. If used properly, this not only benefits the business at productivity and profitability level, but also contributes towards better animal health and welfare, and delivers distinct environmental and climate benefits.

Aim: This management option aims to encourage participants to review the current breeding programme in place and identify opportunities to accelerate performance efficiencies by enhancing appropriate maternal and finishing traits through (further) use of genetic and/or genomic data.

This may include the utilisation of genetic data collected at home or from breeders, through breed-specific programmes, or any other means of capturing, analysing and representing genetic and genomic data, for instance through a better awareness of myostatins and the opportunities and risks associated with focusing on specific myostatin strains. Such information can then be utilised to match bull breeding and performance traits to the specific needs of the cow herd and chosen market outlet by choosing a suitable sire for artificial insemination or natural mating, and consideration should be given to running a closed replacement system where this is feasible in order to achieve accelerated genetic improvements from known bloodlines that are best suited to thrive within that specific farm environment.

Making use of genetic and genomic data will help to achieve better and quicker performance and productivity improvements to ultimately boost the production efficiency of the breeding herd, thereby achieving better resource and input utilisation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions per unit of output, and increase cattle enterprise profitability.

For example, data provided by E. Wall, SRUC[40], shows that the use of superior genotype material via Elite maternal sires can result in potentially significant emissions reductions when compared to baseline data on current trends. The data suggests that total maternal greenhouse gas emissions could drop by 130kg of CO2e over a 20 year period.

It is however crucial that there is a clear understanding of the risk associated with improper use of such genetic and/or genomic data, for example where that information has to rely on accurate and reliable data input. Inappropriate use of such data can result in unintended consequences arising from focusing on certain traits at the cost of others. Some past strategies have for instance put enhanced emphasis on traits aimed at maximising meat yields but neglected crucial maternal and fitness traits, thereby compromising animal health, welfare and longevity as a result of calving issues and poor locomotion. The selective focus on bulls with excellent calving EBVs has in some cases caused calving issues in their daughters as a result of a reduced pelvic capacity. Utilising a multi-trait selection approach which integrates a range of key performance indicators into animal-specific breeding profiles and programmes, and plots these against the animal's ability to thrive within a specific environment can help to negate the risks of singular and one-sided breeding programmes.

There is a huge opportunity to better utilise genetic information for environmental and economic purposes, but only if this information is accurate and reliable, properly used, and clearly communicated between breeders and buyers. It must not compromise animal health and welfare for other gains, and the consequences of specific genetic selection need to be fully understood. This will require commitment at farmer level as well as from continued research and development.

Emissions abatement potential: It is extremely difficult to accurately determine the emissions abatement potential from genetic progress and performance gains. In order to establish potential reductions, the improvements arising from genetic progress would need to be quantified.

These may include better breeding performance, better or quicker finishing of animals, the ability to calve heifers at a younger age where the system and cattle type allows this, or the ability for a business to reduce feed inputs by improving the feed conversion efficiency (as outlined in the next sub-chapter).

Assuming that genetic progress within a rearer finisher unit could result in an increased rearing percentage by 4%, allow for heifers to be calved at 24 months instead of 36 months whilst at the same time reduce the mature cow size by 10%, and reduce the age at slaughter from 21 to 18 months, such a system could potentially reduce its emissions intensity by up to 20.5% according to emissions modelling data provided by J. Bell et al. (2020)[41].

Assessment option: This management option is closely interlinked with the other options forming part of the 'cattle breeding, monitoring and performance recording' category. Participating businesses should identify to what extent they make use of the wider genetic information available within their herd, and, where feasible and applicable, identify opportunities to pursue (further) genetic progress in addition to assessing herd, cow and bull breeding performance and efficiencies.

Applicability: This management option is applicable to suckler herds, which may include both store producers and rearer finisher units. Store producers and finisher units are encouraged to exchange relevant performance data to help accelerate genetic progress.

7.1.6. Feed conversion efficiency

Relevance: Cattle performance efficiencies on a store and/or finishing unit rely on optimising the balance between inputs and outputs. Increasing outputs without having to increase inputs accordingly means that the farm is better utilising inputs to generate greater outputs which improves cattle efficiencies, reduces associated greenhouse gas emissions per unit of output, and boosts overall cattle profitability. A major factor that can contribute towards applying improvements to the cattle production system involves close monitoring and recording of cattle performance in order to identify individual animals or cattle groups showing superior or inferior productivity. One way of assessing cattle performance includes the use of key performance indicators (KPIs), and some of the most commonly used KPIs within cattle finishing units are daily liveweight gains, age at slaughter, and days to slaughter.

Whilst all three KPIs are useful tools to assess the production performance of different cattle or cattle groups on the farm, they are unable to consider production efficiencies as they focus solely on yields without taking into consideration the level of inputs required to achieve such results, and they are more difficult to apply to the same extent across different farming systems as they rely heavily on the production system, diet, cattle type being used, as well as the overall management of those cattle. Depending on the location, availability of and access to resources, infrastructure and inputs, as well as environmental factors and challenges, different farms may specialise in and focus on a particular production system.

Whether that includes intensive finishing of continental-bred cattle with continuous housing on a grain-heavy diet, or extensive finishing on a grass-based diet using native cattle, these systems may be equally as efficient depending on how well they utilise the inputs and resources that are available to them, and how well they match their production system and choice of cattle type to naturally limiting or enhancing production factors.

Putting the above KPIs into an efficiency context by expressing the relative production performance of different animals with due consideration to the level of feed inputs required to achieve that particular performance level can therefore offer a useful tool to assess how well the cattle are utilising inputs for production, thereby giving the farmer a much more useful means of assessing cattle efficiency, and with it profitability. This can be achieved by means of measuring and evaluating the feed conversion efficiency of individual animals or different management groups. The feed conversion efficiency looks at the level of inputs required to generate one unit of output, or the level of outputs generated from one unit of input.

Focusing on improving the feed conversion efficiency can improve input utilisation and with it reduce any associated greenhouse gas emissions. A study by G Hailu (2018)[42] states that a focus on selectively breeding could reduce methane emissions by as much as 26% over a period of 10 years. For individual production systems, this approach will also ultimately lead to improved daily liveweight gains, reduced days to slaughter and a younger age at slaughter because the business selectively breeds for or purchases cattle that are better suited to its particular system and environment, and therefore better able to thrive.

Aim: This management option aims to encourage participants to assess the performance of store, forward store and finishing animals using the feed conversion efficiency KPI, and to take steps to focus on animals showing a superior feed conversion efficiency. The use of this KPI can highlight homebred store animals from potentially superior and inferior bloodlines as well as highlight a varying quality amongst any purchased stores or differing performances within different on-farm management groups. This enables for informed decision-making to carry out targeted adjustments to the production or purchasing system to ultimately boost the production performance of the cattle, thereby achieving better resource and input utilisation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions per unit of output, and increase cattle enterprise efficiencies and profitability.

Emissions abatement potential: Based on data provided by a study conducted by SRUC[43] involving more than 1,100 Stabiliser steers and bulls over a period of 5 years, improving the net feed efficiency by 30% could lead to a 15% reduction in methane emissions and a 13% reduction in feed inputs without compromising cattle performance.

Assessment option: Participating businesses should identify individual feed conversion efficiencies of store, forward store and/or finishing cattle as well as average feed conversion efficiencies of different management groups and batches.

This information should then be used to address weaker areas of the finishing system and general cattle management, or to inform on-farm breeding strategies or the choice of purchased cattle.

Applicability: This management option is applicable to rearer finisher, forward store and/or finishing units. Store producers and finisher units are encouraged to exchange relevant performance data to help accelerate genetic progress.

7.1.7. Livestock data capture

Relevance: Cattle enterprise efficiency and profitability relies on the business being able to identify and address any areas of weaknesses. In order to know whether the herd is performing well and detect any underlying management or animal-specific issues, cattle performance needs to be monitored, and relevant performance data captured in order to be analysed to make informed decisions about the general cattle management and breeding strategy. The way in which data is captured, and the type of data being captured, can make a significant difference to any business. The adoption of electronic equipment for instance collects and stores relevant and accurate data more efficiently for individual animals, thereby minimising the workload associated with performance recording and reducing the risk of error. This generates a more reliable dataset which, if fed into dedicated livestock recording software, can easily be accessed and analysed for further assessment of individual animals, bloodlines, or management groups. Enhanced performance recording allows for management decisions to be better targeted which in turn boosts business performance efficiencies and with it leads to a reduced greenhouse gas emissions intensity by culling animals known to be less productive, adjusting input systems, and improving the overall cattle production system and management.

Aim: This management option aims to encourage participants to identify the approach to livestock data recording and evaluation that is currently being carried out on their farm, and what steps have been or can be taken to make the process of data recording more efficient and robust. Where applicable and possible, participating businesses are encouraged to adopt a more accurate system of data recording using electronic equipment, in combination with cattle EID technology which will become compulsory in the near future, and dedicated livestock recording software. Efficient data recording frees up precious time which can be dedicated to valuable stockmanship tasks, and enables for informed decision-making to be carried out in order to improve cattle efficiencies, and with it reduce greenhouse gas emissions per unit of output as a result of a more productive and efficient cattle enterprise. This will also deliver financial benefits by boosting cattle profitability.

Emissions abatement potential: It is extremely difficult to accurately determine the emissions abatement potential from capturing and evaluating livestock data. In order to establish potential reductions, the improvements arising from better livestock data capture would need to be quantified. These may include better breeding performance, better or quicker finishing of cattle or improved health amongst others.

Assuming that better livestock monitoring and recording within a rearer finisher unit could result in an increased rearing percentage by 4% and reduce the age at slaughter from 21 months down to 16 months for instance, such a system could potentially reduce its emissions intensity by more than 8% according to emissions modelling data provided by J. Bell et al. (2020)[44]. It should however be noted that this scenario shows only one example of how livestock data capture could potentially improve production efficiencies, and the stated emissions abatement potential should therefore not be treated as absolute figure.

Assessment option: Participating businesses should identify their current system of recording cattle performance. This includes an assessment of whether current record-keeping is limited to data capture to comply with legislative requirements, whether there is individual or batch performance recording carried out for further analysis and to inform decision-making, whether this is done using dedicated livestock recording software, and whether the business makes use of electronic recording equipment and EID technology.

Applicability: This management option is applicable to suckler herds and finishing units.

7.1.8. Cattle weighing

Relevance: Knowing the average weight and weight changes over time of the herd as a whole, per management group, or of individual cattle is crucial for informed decision-making and targeted management. Cattle weight and weight gain data enables farmers to prepare more accurate feed rations, administer health treatments at the correct rate, calculate likely finishing dates for better planning, identify animals of superior bloodlines, and can highlight potential underlying health issues. Ensuring that a suitable cattle weighing system is in place which can be used on a regular basis to capture liveweight changes of different management groups within the herd over time can therefore significantly help to better target cattle management where required, which can enhance the efficiency of the production system and reduce any associated greenhouse gas emissions as a result. Better targeting inputs on the basis of known weights can also deliver important environmental benefits by reducing the risk of input wastage.

Aim: This management option aims to encourage participants to identify the current weighing system employed on the farm and the extent to which liveweight data of different batches and management groups, and of individual cattle, is recorded. Where applicable and possible, the management option encourages and/or requires participating businesses to carry out more regular cattle weighing to better inform nutritional planning and feed rationing, better target veterinary inputs, and calculate general cattle performance including better planning of the cattle finishing operation. This may include and/or require the putting in place of suitable weighing equipment, whether as stand-alone items forming part of the cattle handling system, or via incorporation into the race or handling stand (through modification of the current setup).

Emissions abatement potential: It is extremely difficult to accurately determine the emissions abatement potential from monitoring and utilising cattle weight data. In order to establish potential reductions, the improvements arising from collecting weight data would need to be quantified. These may include better breeding performance, better or quicker finishing of cattle and improved health as a result of more targeted feed rationing and accurate health treatment administration taking place. If weight data were to be used to accurately target and administer anthelmintic products, and this leads to an improved cattle performance as a result of better liver fluke control, it could lead to a 9% reduction in the emissions intensity of the cattle production system according to data provided by ADAS UK Ltd (2014[45]). It should however be noted that this scenario shows only one example of how the use of accurate cattle weight data could potentially improve production efficiencies, and the stated emissions abatement potential should therefore not be treated as absolute figure.

Assessment option: Participating businesses should identify their cattle weighing system by assessing whether they currently make use of any weight data, whether this is limited to individual or batch weighing as cattle are moved on or off the farm, or whether regular weighing is carried out. This includes weighing at key stages such as during handling for suckler herds, and weighing at a regular interval of at least once every 4 weeks for store and finishing cattle. The assessment will also include a review of how this weight data is utilised for feed rationing, health product administration and general cattle management.

Applicability: This management option is applicable to suckler herds and finishing units.

7.2. Improving production-based efficiencies – cattle feeding (Category 2)

Aims of category:

This category aims to encourage participating businesses to take steps to reduce the emissions intensity of their cattle production system(s) by

  • improving the productivity and performance of breeding, store and/or finishing cattle by meeting nutritional demands through better feed rationing including the use of appropriate feed additives to ensure that the herd generates optimum returns on inputs;
  • encouraging a greater focus on homegrown and local cattle feeds and avoidance of imported feed products to reduce emissions associated with feed transportation, make use of nutritionally important by-products and co-products from other industries, and focus on sourcing feeds from domestic systems where environmental and societal protection can be safe-guarded and monitored throughout the production process and beyond.

Relevance: The ability of livestock to convert feeding into adequate levels of outputs greatly depends on good nutritional planning and management of the cattle diet, and the production of high quality homegrown feeds. Identifying different nutritional requirements at key stages of production, and outlining targeted feed rationing on the basis of that information can help to ensure that the diet meets the demands of the various management groups without an under-supply compromising performance and productivity, or an over-supply causing wastage. Improving the utilisation of feed can optimise cattle productivity and production efficiencies whilst reducing greenhouse gas emissions per unit of output, especially where feed additives can be included within the cattle ration.

A greater focus on producing homegrown forages, and making the most of locally available feeds, can furthermore help to reduce the emissions intensity of the cattle enterprise by reducing the emissions associated with feed transportation, but only where homegrown and locally sourced feeds have been produced in an efficient manner. Taking full advantage of important and nutritionally valuable by-products and co-products from other sectors, such as draff from near-by distilleries, can deliver further climate benefits as the emissions from the production of draff are shared between the whisky industry and beef sector. An increased focus and reliance on homegrown and/or locally sourced cattle feed also helps to reduce or avoid the use of imported feed products that may originate from environmentally and socially questionable production systems, and which may be associated with increased greenhouse gas emissions.

7.2.1. Better targeted feed rationing

Relevance: Outlining a feed plan for different cattle groups at different key stages of production is absolutely crucial to achieve optimum productivity and performance by ensuring that the diet meets all the nutritional needs of individual cattle. This requires a sound knowledge of the basic nutritional requirements of cattle of varying ages and at varying levels of production, as well as an in-depth understanding of the dietary components of different feeds being considered as part of the cattle ration. Target production and performance levels should be known and accurate liveweight records and body condition scoring can help to better inform the exact daily feed intake requirements as a proportion of the average bodyweight of different management groups.

This can help to ensure that the chosen and formulated diet meets the demands of the cattle to achieve target performance, and avoids wastage as a result of including excess levels of feed that is not required. This approach to better targeting the feed ration improves input efficiencies associated with cattle feeding, which in turn benefits the environment by reducing the level of associated greenhouse gas emissions.

Aim: This management option ties in with the scheme requirement of carrying out forage analysis and completing a basic cattle feed ration plan, and aims to encourage participants to review their current feed ration management and planning and, where applicable, take steps to better target feed rationing to better utilise inputs. This option is particularly relevant for more intensive operations where housed cattle receive total mixed rations. However, the management option is also available to extensive grass-based systems where accurate rationing is more challenging but nonetheless possible by carrying out appropriate analysis of forage both harvested and/or in situ.

Better feed rationing will help to improve feed efficiencies whilst reducing any associated greenhouse gas emissions, and boosts cattle enterprise profitability by achieving optimum performance without the risk of wasting feed inputs.

Emissions abatement potential: It is extremely difficult to accurately determine the emissions abatement potential from improved cattle feed management as a result of better targeted feed rationing. In order to establish potential reductions, the beneficial impacts of improved feed rationing would need to be quantified. These may include better breeding performance, better or quicker finishing of cattle, the ability to calve heifers at a younger age where the system and cattle type allows this, or the ability for a business to reduce feed wastage and sell surplus home-produced cattle feed off-farm.

Assuming that better targeting of feed rations for breeding cows, replacement heifers and finishing cattle within a rearer finisher unit could result in an increased rearing percentage by 4%, allow for heifers to be calved at 24 months instead of 36 months, and reduce the age at slaughter by finishing males as bull beef at 13 months, such a system could potentially reduce its emissions intensity by up to 21.7% according to emissions modelling data provided by J. Bell et al. (2020)[46].

This scenario would of course not apply to every rearer finisher unit, but emissions reductions could nonetheless be gained.

Using the same emissions model for rearer finisher units, reducing the age at slaughter from 21 months to 18 months for instance could reduce emissions by 11.3% per unit of output which is much less significant but nonetheless an important contribution. It should however be noted that these scenarios show only two examples of how better targeted feed rations could potentially improve production efficiencies, and the stated emissions abatement potential should therefore not be treated as absolute figure.

Assessment option: Participating businesses should identify the current feed rationing system applied on-farm by assessing whether detailed feed rationing is taking place by using feed composition data, carrying out analysis of homegrown cattle feeds, and basing rations on up-to-date cattle liveweight, known nutritional demands in line with target production and performance, and body condition scoring data.

Applicability: This management option is applicable to suckler herds and finishing units but may be better suited to less extensive systems where the feed intake parameters are better known and controlled.

7.2.2. Feed additives

Relevance: The diet provided to cattle not only significantly influences the overall performance of a herd, but also directly determines the activity of the gastrointestinal system with regards to its ability to efficiently utilise nutrients, minerals and trace elements within the feeding provided. The composition of the diet furthermore influences the likely total daily feed intake of individual animals, and the level of methane being produced within the rumen. Feed additives can play an important role in enabling the digestive system to better utilise feed inputs which can lead to a reduced feed intake requirement without compromising current levels of cattle productivity and performance. This leads to a greater input utilisation efficiency which in turn reduces greenhouse gas emissions per unit of output from the cattle system. Additional reductions in the emissions intensity from the cattle enterprise can also be achieved as a result of some feed additives which have a direct impact on the quantity of methane being produced during rumen fermentation. Feed additives therefore play a key role in making cattle feeding more efficient whilst minimising associated greenhouse gas emissions.

A study conducted by V. Eory et al. (2015)[47] found the addition of nitrate within the cattle diet to result in a 20% reduction of enteric methane emissions.

Although the additive has to be carefully mixed into the cattle feed which means that the use of feed additives is only really practical in a housed system, the research clearly highlights the significant opportunity available to farmers to reduce methane emissions from their production system through the use of feed additives without having to change production levels or make any major management changes.

Aim: This management option aims to encourage participants to identify what opportunities they have within their business to use feed additives as part of the cattle diet, and to take steps to incorporate such feed additives where possible within the cattle ration in order to improve feed utilisation efficiencies and reduce feed related greenhouse gas emissions. This may include the use of a range of different additives such as lipids, nitrates, probiotics, 3NOP and, depending on its commercial availability, also seaweed. Each of these different types of feed additives offer distinct advantages for different systems.

Emissions abatement potential: According to emissions modelling data provided by J. Bell et al. (2020)[48], the use of 3NOP in housed cattle at 2g to 3g per animal per day could reduce methane emissions by 20% during the housing period. For an animal spending 6 months indoor and 6 months at grass, this would result in an annual emissions reduction of 10%. The same study shows that within a rearer finisher unit as modelled by J. Bell et a., the use of 3NOP as a methane inhibitor could reduce the emissions intensity of the cattle production system by 3.5%.

Assessment option: Participating businesses should identify the extent to which they are currently making use of feed additives to improve cattle productivity, and take steps to optimise their use to cut enteric methane emissions where this is possible and feasible within a given system.

Applicability: This management option is applicable to suckler herds and finishing units but is better suited to systems where cattle are housed for parts of the year or all year.

7.2.3. Homegrown feed and forage production

Relevance: Self-sufficiency, particularly with regards to cattle feeding which is a major aspect of the cattle production system, has many distinct benefits. It can help to reduce business exposure to fluctuating market prices and minimise any issues associated with an unknown quality and nutritional content of privately purchased feeds. Focusing on homegrown feed and forage production also requires businesses to critically review and assess their own grazing and feed or forage production system to optimise yields and quality where possible.

Controlling all or most aspects of the cattle diet by focusing on homegrown production means that the farming business can maintain important production factors in-hand and, depending on efficient use of inputs required to produce cattle feed, reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with the potential long-distance haulage of cattle feeds and forages.

Aim: This management option aims to encourage participants to review their current reliance on purchased feeds, and to take steps to try and maximise homegrown forage and grazing production in order to become more self-sufficient and reduce the fuel use associated with feed transportation which helps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This can for instance be achieved by improving the general grassland management in order to obtain better forage yields and quality.

Emissions abatement potential: Emissions abatement modelling conducted by J. Bell et al. (2020)[49] and using a rearer finisher scenario has found that improved grassland management through a combination of introducing rotational grazing management in conjunction with better forage quality and a reseeding policy can reduce the emissions intensity of the production system by 6.3%.

Assessment option: Participating businesses should identify the proportion of the cattle diet that is provided by on-farm grazing and from homegrown forage and feed production on an annual basis.

Applicability: This management option is applicable to suckler herds and finishing units.

7.2.4. Locally sourced supplementary feed

Relevance: The vast majority of cattle enterprises rely to some degree on supplementary feeding to complement homegrown diets and make up any shortfalls in nutritional requirements which may not be met otherwise. There is a wide range of different types of supplementary feed available for farmers to purchase, some of which are produced within the UK and are specifically aimed at the livestock sector or are available as a co- or by-product from other industries such as distilleries.

However, where feeds have been imported, particularly from out with the European Union, these may have originated from unsustainable production systems associated with environmental exploitation and degradation, destruction of biodiversity and habitat loss, rainforest deforestation, and other serious issues such as the displacement of indigenous communities. They are out with the reach of strict legislation in place within Scotland and the UK aimed at safe-guarding the environment, ecosystems and local communities.

Such imported cattle feed products furthermore come with a high emissions intensity due to the long-distance transportation required to ship them to Scotland. Domestically grown livestock feeds on the other hand offer a much more sustainable, less emissions intensive option for supplementary cattle feeding. This includes valuable nutritional co- and by-products from other industries including draff from distilleries for instance which are a high-value feed source for many cattle enterprises across Scotland and should be made us of wherever possible.

Due to the two-staged use that these crops offer to the distilling or similar industry, followed by the livestock sector, they also have a lower emissions intensity due to the greenhouse gas emissions associated with their production being spread across two industries.

A focus on domestic livestock feeds including co- and by-products from other sectors can therefore significantly reduce the greenhouse gas emissions associated with supplementary cattle feed whilst also greatly enhancing the green credentials for environmental protection by ensuring that no unsustainable foreign feed products enter the Scottish beef sector.

Aim: This management option aims to encourage participants to review the supplementary feeding being used within the cattle enterprise in order to identify the various sources of the different ingredients and, where applicable, take steps to reduce or give up reliance on cattle feed components being imported from out with the EU and UK. This can be achieved by actively putting a greater focus on locally produced cattle feeds and making use of any nutritionally valuable co- and by-products.

Emissions abatement potential: A study by I. Leinonen et al. (2018)[50] shows that using distillery by-products such as draff or distiller's dark grains with solubles to replace soya or rapeseed within the cattle feed diet can for instance reduce greenhouse gas emissions by up to 1.219kg CO2e per kilogram dry-matter of by-product fed. This is in large parts achieved by reducing the overall reliance on soya which in turn lowers emissions associated with land use changes for soya production that would otherwise be allocated to the cattle enterprise.

Assessment option: Participating businesses should identify the current proportion of the supplementary cattle feed that has been produced out with the UK or European Union, or for which the source is unknown. This assessment should be carried out on an annual basis.

Applicability: This management option is applicable to suckler herds and finishing units.

7.3. Improving production-based efficiencies – cattle health (Category 3)

Aims of category:

This category aims to encourage participating businesses to take steps to reduce the emissions intensity of their cattle production system(s) by

  • improving overall cattle health in order to ensure that cattle performance and productivity and their ability to efficiently utilise given inputs are not limited by underlying health issues;
  • improving overall cattle health by optimising the effectiveness and responsible use of animal health products through better targeting veterinary inputs; this may lead to an overall reduction in the quantity of animal health products used, thereby minimising the risk of exposure of local vulnerable wildlife to potentially harmful agrochemicals being carried into the environment.

Relevance: Diseases and parasitic presence are one of the major causes of inefficiencies in suckler herds across Scotland as they cause poor reproductive performance, stifle animal growth and development, and result in general ill-thrift with associated animal welfare issues and increased veterinary and/or disposal costs. Poorer cattle performance and higher mortality rates lead to an overall reduction in outputs and/or delays in getting animals to a suitable weight ready for sale, thereby resulting in additional input requirements. Diseases can therefore significantly increase the emissions intensity of affected cattle herds by severely compromising production efficiencies. Where animal health products are not used correctly to target specific issues in a timely manner, at the necessary rate, and using a suitable product, this can exacerbate any health problems and/or cause further issues associated with pathogenic or parasitic immunity and resistance to certain veterinary medicines, thereby compromising their effectiveness on-farm and across the wider agricultural industry going forward.

Poor cattle health and inadequate or inappropriate use of animal health products ultimately results in poor herd performance and productivity, causes inefficient resource and input utilisation, severely impacts on farm profitability, and can affect the mental health and well-being of the farmer.

Significance: A study conducted by ADAS UK Ltd (2014)[51] concluded potential increases in emissions intensities of between 4% and 130% depending on the type of disease or parasite affecting herd performance. With regards to the potential abatement potential of cattle health measures, resolving an underlying disease or parasitic issue could therefore lead to greenhouse gas emissions reductions of between 3.8% and 56% per unit of output and depending on the actual health issue impacting on cattle performance.

7.3.1. Bovine Viral Diarrhoea (BVD)

Relevance: Bovine Viral Diarrhoea is one of the most significant diseases impacting cattle health, welfare and performance. It severely affects cattle enterprise profitability and leads to a high cost to the Scottish agricultural economy as a result of poor reproductive ability and reduced resistance to disease. The potential environmental impact from BVD is quite significant, with research carried out on behalf of Defra and AHVLA showing that greenhouse gas emissions within a suckler beef herd affected by the disease may be increased by up to 130% per beef carcass (ADAS UK Ltd, 2014[52]). According to CHeCS[53], the economic impact of an outbreak of BVD in a suckler beef herd is equally as severe and can exceed £4,500 across a herd of 100 cows.

The Scottish Government initiated a voluntary BVD eradication scheme in 2010 which has since progressed to Phase 5 and which focuses on protecting the Scottish cattle population by identifying and removing persistently infected animals from the small proportion of remaining BVD positive or not negative breeding herds, along with imposing stricter movement and testing requirements[54].

Aim: This management option aims to encourage participants to take the BVD requirements as outlined as part of the BVD eradication scheme further to not only eradicate the disease from their herd if present, but to put measures in place to minimise the risk of further or future exposure to BVD. Ensuring that businesses participating in the SBCS are taking every precaution and necessary steps to help reduce the risk of BVD incidents will not only help to reassure the public that due consideration is being given to animal health and welfare but will also improve overall herd performance, thereby achieving better resource and input utilisation efficiencies in Scottish beef herds. This will ultimately help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions per unit of output and increase business profitability as a result.

Emissions abatement potential: Eradicating BVD within an affected herd can lower the emissions intensity of the cattle herd by up to 56%.

Assessment option: Participating businesses should review their BVD status on an annual basis by assessing whether their herd is certified negative (accredited), screened negative (tested), not negative but vaccinating, not negative, or whether there have been any cases of BVD-positive cattle at any point in the past 12 months. For store and finishing units, this assessment considers the BVD health status of the herds that their cattle originate from.

Applicability: This management option is applicable to suckler herds and finishing units.

7.3.2. Infectious Bovine Rhinotracheitis (IBR)

Relevance: Infectious Bovine Rhinotracheitis is a major and highly contagious cattle disease which affects the upper respiratory tract of infected animals and which is found across a large proportion of suckler beef herds within the UK. Herds struggling with IBR positive cattle experience significant ill-thrift which severely compromise animal welfare, performance efficiencies and productivity, along with overall enterprise profitability.

The poorer production efficiency of an affected suckler beef herd can result in an emissions intensity of 20% above the normal average for a healthy herd (ADAS UK Ltd, 2014[55]), and studies carried out in dairy herds by the University of Reading (Craig Robinson Vets, 2020[56]) and Zoetis UK Ltd (2013)[57] have estimated the cost impact of IBR to be between £3,200 and £4,500 for 100 cows before taking into account any reproductive losses and treatment costs.

Aim: This management option aims to encourage participants to establish whether IBR is an issue on their farm, take the necessary steps to control and eradicate the disease from their herd where it is present, and put in place measures to minimise the risk of further or future exposure to IBR. Ensuring that businesses participating in the SBCS are taking every precaution and necessary steps to help reduce the risk of incidents involving a major cattle disease will not only help to reassure the public that due consideration is being given to animal health and welfare but will also improve overall herd performance, thereby achieving better resource and input utilisation efficiency in Scottish beef herds. This will ultimately help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions per unit of output and increase business profitability as a result.

Emissions abatement potential: Based on data by ADAS UK Ltd (2014), eradicating IBR within an affected herd can lower the emissions intensity of the cattle herd by up to 17%.

Assessment option: Participating businesses should review their IBR status on an annual basis by assessing whether their herd is accredited and/or vaccinated, tested negative, whether there have been any cases of IBR-positive cattle at any point in the past 12 months, or whether the health status is unknown. For store and finishing units, this assessment considers the IBR health status of the herds that their cattle originate from.

Applicability: This management option is applicable to suckler herds and finishing units.

7.3.3. Leptospirosis (Lepto)

Relevance: Leptospirosis is a major cattle disease found across a large proportion of suckler beef herds across the UK and causes reproductive issues including fertility problems, abortions and poor milk production. Depending on the system, it can be easily spread and compromises animal welfare, performance and productivity along with enterprise profitability.

According to CHeCS[58], Lepto is estimated to result in added costs of up to £106 per cow within affected herds.

Aim: This management option aims to encourage participants to establish whether Lepto is an issue on their farm, take the necessary steps to control and eradicate the disease from their herd where it is present, and put in place measures to minimise the risk of further or future exposure to Lepto. Ensuring that businesses participating in the SBCS are taking every precaution and necessary steps to help reduce the risk of incidents involving a major cattle disease will not only help to reassure the public that due consideration is being given to animal health and welfare but will also improve overall herd performance, thereby achieving better resource and input utilisation efficiency in Scottish beef herds. This will ultimately help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions per unit of output and increase business profitability as a result.

Emissions abatement potential: Research conducted by D. J. Bartley et al. (2016)[59] identified potential greenhouse gas emissions savings, but the nature of this disease, i.e. potential fertility issues, abortions and reduced milk yields, means that accurately determining the extent of its impact and accurately quantifying the resulting emissions intensity is difficult. Further research will be required to substantiate the potential savings from controlling Lepto, but the study confirms that emissions can be reduced.

Assessment option: Participating businesses should review their Lepto status on an annual basis by assessing whether their herd is accredited and/or vaccinated, tested negative, whether there have been any cases of Lepto-positive cattle at any point in the past 12 months, or whether the health status is unknown. For store and finishing units, this assessment considers the Lepto health status of the herds that their cattle originate from.

Applicability: This management option is applicable to suckler herds and finishing units.

7.3.4. Johne's Disease (Johne's)

Relevance: Johne's Diseases is found within a significant proportion of cattle herds across the UK and can be easily spread within a herd. Limitations associated with effective testing add further complications to identifying Johne's within a herd. It is a chronic wasting disease with symptoms progressively worsening, and it severely compromises animal welfare, performance and productivity along with enterprise profitability. According to ADAS UK Ltd (2013[60] and 2014[61]), greenhouse gas emissions resulting from the presence of Johne's within suckler beef herds may be increased by 40%, and financial losses as a result of Johne's can exceed £4,500 for a 100 head suckler cows herd as measured in England.

Aim: This management option aims to encourage participants to establish whether Johne's is an issue on their farm, take the necessary steps to control and, where possible, eradicate the disease from their herd where it is present, and put in place measures to minimise the risk of further or future exposure to Johne's. Ensuring that businesses participating in the SBCS are taking every precaution and necessary steps to help reduce the risk of incidents involving a major cattle disease will not only help to reassure the public that due consideration is being given to animal health and welfare but will also improve overall herd performance, thereby achieving better resource and input utilisation efficiency in Scottish beef herds. This will ultimately help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions per unit of output and increase business profitability as a result.

It is recognised that the eradication of Johne's can be very difficult, and so it should be a priority for participating businesses to take steps to try and control and contain the disease where possible in a first instance, as this will already help to significantly improve cattle health.

Emissions abatement potential: Based on data by ADAS UK Ltd (2014), controlling and where possible eradicating Johne's within an affected herd can lower the emissions intensity of the cattle herd by almost 30%.

Assessment option: Participating businesses should review their Johne's status on an annual basis by assessing whether their herd is risk accredited, tested negative, whether there have been any cases of Johne's-positive cattle at any point in the past 12 months, or whether the status is unknown. For store and finishing units, this assessment considers the Johne's health status of the herds that their cattle originate from.

Applicability: This management option is applicable to suckler herds and finishing units.

7.3.5. Responsible use of antibiotics

Relevance: Antibiotics are an extremely important medicine to control bacteria-related health issues in animals and humans, and their effectiveness and viability relies on proper use and targeting. Over-use of antibiotics leads to unnecessary input wastage, and inappropriate use of antibiotics including the administration of insufficient quantities in relation to bodyweight can result in a build-up of antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria, thereby eventually rendering future treatments of bacterial infections ineffective within the agricultural industry and beyond.

Apart from the obvious risks associated with poorly targeted use of antibiotics, research has also found that cattle undergoing antibiotic treatment may show increased greenhouse gas emissions: According to T. J. Hammer et al. (2016)[62], emissions from dung deposited by cows undergoing antibiotic treatment were found to be 80% higher compared to untreated cows, and the findings suggested that alterations caused to the dung as a result of antibiotic use may potentially have an ecologically harmful impact, in particular on dung beetle.

The above highlight an obvious need to ensure that antibiotics are used responsibly.

Aim: In line with the recently published 'New recommendations for monitoring use of antibiotics on beef farms' by the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (2019)[63] using data from the Cattle Health and Welfare Group's Antimicrobial Usage Subgroup[64] on how to measure and compare antibiotic usage on beef farms, this management option aims to encourage participants to better target antibiotic treatments for improved cattle health management, reduced levels of antibiotic use, and a lesser risk of antibiotic resistance building up. This will include the completion of appropriate training along with an annual assessment to establish how heavily reliant individual businesses are on antibiotics. This can provide an indication of how well antibiotics are used and should encourage participants to identify any issues that may be present on the farm where preventative measures can be put in place to reduce the overall need for antibiotic use. Ultimately, the aim is to reduce overall reliance on antibiotics within the cattle production system. Ensuring that businesses participating in the SBCS are taking every precaution and necessary steps to help reduce antibiotic use will help to reassure the public that due consideration is being given to animal health and welfare, as well as the future viability of antibiotics as an effective means to treat bacterial infection in animals as well as humans. Putting preventative measures in place and better targeting antibiotic treatments will minimise greenhouse gas emissions and any ecological risks directly associated with the treatment, and improve overall herd performance. The latter will help to achieve better resource and input utilisation efficiency in Scottish beef herds which will ultimately help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions per unit of output and increase business profitability as a result.

Emissions abatement potential: Based on data by T. J. Hammer et al. (2016), every treatment involving antibiotics that can be prevented through better cattle health management can reduce emissions from the dung of such animals by approx. 44% compared to cattle that are having to undergo antibiotic treatment.

Assessment option: Participating businesses should complete the online training course 'Animal Medicines Best Practice' programme (AMBP), more specifically the AMBP course on antibiotics in beef[65], and carry out any administration of antibiotics in line with official best practice. In addition, participants should review the level of antibiotic use on the farm on an annual basis by calculating the average treatment days per animal on-farm.

Applicability: This management option is applicable to suckler herds and finishing units.

7.3.6. Responsible use of anthelmintics

Relevance: Anthelmintics include a range of products aimed at the control of endo-parasitic infestation such as liver fluke, gastrointestinal nematodes (gut worm) and lungworm. Flukicides and wormers are amongst the most commonly used anthelmintics in cattle farming to minimise health issues and poor animal performance associated with internal parasitic burden and damage. Inadequate or inappropriate use of anthelmintics not only risks medicine wastage along with the associated expense but can result in potential side effects affecting animal health as a result of over-treatment. Excessive use of anthelmintics can furthermore pose a risk to the environment by potentially harming vulnerable animals forming part of the local biodiversity. Where under-treatment takes place, it fails to adequately address the issue and can eventually lead to parasitic resistance against certain anthelmintics. This not only renders a specific product and its active ingredient ineffective within a farm, but can potentially result in wide-reaching animal welfare and economic damage across the industry if such resistant strains spread to other farms through livestock movements.

A failure to properly target the use of such products and/or inability to correctly administer the medicine ultimately results in poor animal performance and general ill-thrift along with associated welfare issues, productivity losses, and poor enterprise and carbon efficiencies. Liver fluke infestation for instance can increase the emissions intensity associated with suckler beef production by 10% as a result of poorer performance (ADAS UK Ltd, 2014[66]), which does not include the emissions implications associated with acute fluke causing on-farm mortalities.

Aim: In line with best practice guidance as outlined by COWS (2014[67] and 2020[68] [69] [70]) and The Moredun Foundation (2020), this management option aims to encourage participants to better target anthelmintic treatments including flukicides and wormers for improved cattle health management, reduced wastage, and to lower the risk of any parasitic resistance building up. This will include an annual assessment in order to establish how well best practice is being adopted for any endo-parasitic (routine) treatments. Ensuring that businesses participating in the SBCS are taking every precaution and necessary steps to better target treatments and reduce medicine use will help to reassure the public that due consideration is being given to animal health and welfare, as well as the future availability of anthelmintics as an effective means to treat endo-parasitic burden in livestock. Putting preventative measures in place and better targeting anthelmintic treatments will minimise the risk of harmful ecological consequences and improve overall herd performance. The latter will help to achieve better resource and input utilisation efficiency in Scottish beef herds to reduce greenhouse gas emissions per unit of output and increase business profitability.

Emissions abatement potential: Based on data by ADAS UK Ltd (2014), appropriate liver fluke control can for instance reduce the emissions intensity of affected herds by up to 9%.

Assessment option: Participating businesses should review their animal health treatment system on an annual basis to assess how well any anthelmintic products are targeted. The assessment considers whether anthelmintics are administered as part of routine treatments involving one or several active ingredients, whether the administration rate is targeted at the estimated heaviest within a group or based on actual up-to-date liveweight data of individual animals, whether any precision technology and equipment such as an automatically adjustable dosing gun is utilised for greater accuracy, whether recent 'COWS' guidance is being followed, and whether testing has been carried out to identify the presence of any issues at the time of treatment.

Applicability: This management option is applicable to suckler herds and finishing units.

7.3.7. Calf health

Relevance: Calf performance relies on good health management and can be severely compromised by various health issues, with research listing pneumonia and calf scour as two of the most important causes of calf ill-thrift and possible mortality (ADAS UK Ltd, 2014[71]). Pneumonia has been identified as major cause of calf mortality by Beef Efficiency Scheme participants: According to the 'BES performance data and advice for your farm' report sent out to participants in January 2020, 25.18% of calf disposals were due to pneumonia. Further investigation would be required to establish whether these cases were clearly diagnosed as pneumonia during a vet examination or post mortem, but the data nonetheless suggests that calf pneumonia is a serious health issue within Scottish suckler beef herds. According to ADAS UK Ltd (2014), greenhouse gas emissions per unit of output may be increased by 4% as a result of calf pneumonia and/or calf diarrhoea and the same study estimates economic losses to be ranging from £43 to £90 per calf which does not include further losses as a result of poor performance and potential mortality with associated disposal costs.

Aim: This management option aims to encourage participants to identify any underlying health problems causing ill-thrift or mortalities amongst calves in order to take the necessary steps to resolve any issues currently affecting calf health and wellbeing, and to put in place measures to minimise the risk of further or future calf health issues. Ensuring that businesses participating in the SBCS are taking every precaution and necessary steps to help reduce the risk of poor calf health will not only help to reassure the public that due consideration is being given to animal health and welfare but will also improve overall herd performance, thereby achieving better resource and input utilisation efficiencies in Scottish beef herds. This will ultimately help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions per unit of output and increase business profitability as a result.

Emissions abatement potential: Based on data by ADAS UK Ltd (2014), appropriate calf health management can reduce the emissions intensity of affected herds by almost 4%.

Assessment option: Participating businesses should review their calf health management strategy on an annual basis by assessing the incident rate of diseased or deceased calves. They should identify what calf health issues are occurring on-farm by consulting the vet for appropriate treatment, and/or by carrying out a post-mortem to determine the cause of mortality incidents. An effective calf health strategy should be outlined and incorporated into the annual cattle health plan to specifically address issues that have been identified on the farm.

Applicability: This management option is applicable to suckler herds, which may include both store producers and rearer finisher units.

7.3.8. Cow health

Relevance: Maintaining optimum cow performance relies on thorough health management and can be severely compromised by a variety of health issues including some of the aforementioned major cattle diseases such as BVD, IBR, Johne's and Lepto. Scientific studies have found that further health issues, particularly Neosporosis which severely affects reproductive performance, or mastitis and lameness, also cause significant issues with regards to poor cow performance: According to ADAS UK Ltd (2014)[72], mastitis and lameness have been identified as having amongst the highest economic impact within British dairy and suckler beef herds and can increase greenhouse gas emissions of affected herds by up to 6% and 4% respectively. With regards to Neosporosis, research carried out by P. J. Skuce et al. (2016)[73] estimated the potential to reduce the emissions intensity from affected cattle herds by up to 4.5% depending on the prevalence of the disease within the herd.

Aim: This management option aims to encourage participants to identify any causes of death or ill-thrift amongst cows other than the aforementioned major diseases listed as separate management options, in order to take the necessary steps to resolve any issues currently affecting cow health and wellbeing, and to put in place measures to minimise the risk of further or future health issues. This includes a particular focus on Neosporosis, mastitis and lameness. Ensuring that businesses participating in the SBCS are taking every precaution and necessary steps to help reduce the risk of poor cow health will not only help to reassure the public that due consideration is being given to animal health and welfare but will also improve overall herd performance, thereby achieving better resource and input utilisation efficiencies in Scottish beef herds. This will ultimately help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions per unit of output and increase business profitability as a result.

Emissions abatement potential: Based on data by ADAS UK Ltd (2014) and P. J. Skuce et al. (2016), appropriate cow health management can reduce the emissions intensity of affected herds by up to 5.6% depending on the underlying health issue.

Assessment option: Participating businesses should review their cow health management strategy on an annual basis by assessing the incident rate of diseased or deceased cows. This includes working towards the identification of any cow health issues occurring on-farm by consulting the vet for appropriate treatment, and/or by carrying out a post-mortem to determine the cause of mortality incidents. An effective cow health strategy should be outlined and incorporated into the annual cattle health plan to specifically address issues that have been identified on the farm.

Applicability: This management option is applicable to suckler herds, which may include both store producers and rearer finisher units.

7.4. Improving soil health (Category 4)

Aims of category:

This category aims to encourage participating businesses to take steps to protect and maintain existing soil carbon stores on their farmland, increase soil carbon sequestration where this is possible, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from their production system(s) or as a result of soil carbon losses through poor farmland management by

  • improving the overall health of the soil through better management of soil acidity, soil organic matter and carbon levels, and by preserving or restoring good soil structure and enhancing microbial activity;
  • better targeting field management to enhance input utilisation and reduce fuel use.

The management options being proposed as part of this category will also benefit the wider biodiversity by enhancing suitable habitats for a wide range of animals and soil microorganisms, all of which rely on and contribute towards the healthiness of soils.

Relevance: Soil is one of the most important resources available to any farming business, and relies on a combination of different and complex physical, chemical and biological factors and processes, all of which are crucially important to preserve good soil functioning. If managed properly, healthy soils not only provide a suitable medium to facilitate good grass and crop growth as well as a habitat to a wide variety of animals and microorganisms, but they provide an effective solution for storing carbon long-term and can help to reduce the impact of flooding or drought thanks to a greater water infiltration and retention capacity. Their ability to draw carbon into the ground means that carbon losses can be minimised during the event of wildfires, where vast quantities of above-ground carbon stored in vegetation can be released. With climate change causing increasingly more frequent extreme weather and weather-related events including wildfires, it is therefore crucial to maximise below-ground carbon storage.

A good soil structure with suitable aggregation, i.e. sufficient porous space, is important to not only facilitate movement of water and air into and through the soil, but it enables for nutrients and minerals to travel freely to where they are required, and for plants to grow extensive root systems that can access additional reserves of water, air and nutrients. Organic matter and the carbon contained within help to stabilise such a soil structure and provide a habitat for important soil life, microorganisms and fungi to thrive and make nutrients and minerals available to plants in return for sugars which are released as root exudates into the soil by actively growing plants capturing carbon from the atmosphere via photosynthesis.

A healthier soil enables greater soil microbial and animal activity which helps to improve the condition of the soil as a growing medium and to make more nutrients and minerals available to plants. The plants experience improved performance as a result which increases their growth and with it the level of photosynthesis being carried out.

This leads to greater quantities of carbon being captured from the atmosphere and drawn into the plant and soil to provide important sugar food sources, which in turn maximises the flow of carbon from the atmosphere into the soil, thereby boosting soil carbon sequestration.

It is therefore absolutely crucial that farmers take steps to preserve the soil health of their farmlands. This will help to protect and maintain current soil carbon stores and encourage additional carbon capture from the atmosphere for long-term soil sequestration where possible. Good soil health will also promote better plant performance, enhance input utilisation efficiencies, and support local biodiversity and soil life. Improving soil health will not only deliver important climate and environmental benefits in the form of greater carbon storage and/or capture and enhanced biodiversity, but will result in improved cattle performance and enterprise profitability.

7.4.1. Correcting soil acidity

Relevance: The acidity or alkalinity of soil greatly depends on the base rock material that the soil is made up of. Calcareous parent material typically leads to very alkaline soils with a higher pH whereas peaty base material causes the soil to be acidic and have a lower pH. Rainfall is naturally acidic and can cause further acidification of soils, particularly in areas with high annual precipitation. Sandy soils are more likely to experience a faster rate of acidification than heavier clay-based soils, and a drop in pH can be further accelerated through the application of synthetic Nitrogen fertiliser.

If soils are too acidic, they can limit the growth, development and productivity of plants due to a reduced nutrient and mineral availability as a result of restricted soil microbial activity. This affects overall sward performance both in terms of feed quality and total output, and can cause poorer input utilisation efficiency, thereby increasing the emissions intensity of sward production along with the carbon footprint of the cattle enterprise. Ultimately, this may result in the need to purchase additional feed off-farm to make up the shortfall in home-grown feed production which further impacts on the emissions intensity of the farming enterprise and reduces overall cattle profitability.

Soil acidity can cause additional nutrient problems within systems seeking to supply Nitrogen from within the sward via legumes because a low pH can either prohibit or severely restrict the proper development and functioning of the Rhizobia bacteria responsible for forming the root nodules required for fixing Nitrogen. Acidic soils are furthermore believed to be the main source of agriculture-related nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions and recent research has identified the correcting of the soil pH to be a crucial factor to reducing emissions of this potent greenhouse gas (M. Shaaban et al., 2020[74]).

With regards to the potential for soil carbon sequestration, restricted soil microbial activity as a result of a lower soil pH not only limits sward performance but reduces soil carbon sequestration due to the poorer plant growth and development limiting the level of photosynthesis, which in turn reduces the amount of carbon being drawn into the soil as important food source for soil microbial life.

Aim: This management option aims to encourage participants to establish baseline information about the current pH level of their farmland soils where this is currently unknown, and to correct soil acidity issues on any fields receiving inputs where this is required. This will contribute towards overall soil and microbial health to help enhance and increase soil carbon sequestration, and ensure that the plants are able to efficiently and effectively utilise any nutrients and minerals available within the soil or being added onto the farmland in order to reduce the emissions intensity of the cattle enterprise, along with any associated input wastage.

Emissions abatement potential: According to C. Henault (2019)[75], liming can reduce nitrous oxide emissions by up to 66% or an average of 49%.

Assessment option: Participating businesses should identify the current soil pH of their improved farmland areas and correct soil acidity issues on any fields receiving inputs in line with recent soil analysis results and lime application recommendations as outlined by B. Crooks et al. (2019)[76].

Applicability: This management option is applicable to suckler herds and finishing units.

7.4.2. Increasing soil organic matter

Relevance: The loss of soil organic matter is believed to be one of the major factors causing the increase in anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions over the last 50 years (A. M. Silva-Olaya et al., 2013[77]). It has been recognised by a range of organisations including the Scottish Government (2009)[78] and the Soil Association (L. Payton et al., not dated)[79] as a key issue requiring attention due to its ability to not only enhance food and biomass production, but also because soil organic matter is a crucial factor in facilitating soil carbon storage and sequestration, contributes towards important habitats for local biodiversity, reduces soil erosion, maintains good soil structure, and helps to regulate water flow and quality.

Soil organic matter is important for storing significant quantities of carbon as it is the main medium for soil carbon storage. It typically contains a large proportion of carbon which can make up as much as 58% of the total mass of soil organic matter (S. Corsi et al., 2012[80]). The majority of organic matter is usually present within the soil in a stable form that allows for potential long-term carbon storage depending on the field management. As such, the levels of soil organic matter and soil organic carbon are closely correlated and provide a good indicator for overall soil health and the contribution of different soils to mitigating the effects of global warming (C. Lefèvre et al., 2017[81]).

Aim: This management option aims to encourage participants to identify current soil organic matter levels of their farmland through soil analysis and focus on field management that can increase the proportion of organic matter within their soils. This will contribute towards maximising long-term soil carbon storage and potentially further sequestration, and help to preserve or reinstate good soil structure for optimum water, nutrient and air holding capacity along with a greater water infiltration rate. A greater nutrient retention and availability will furthermore improve overall soil health and boost plant growth and development, thereby ultimately helping to reduce the emissions intensity of the cattle production system by allowing plants to better utilise nutrients and reducing input levels and/or wastage.

Carbon sequestration potential: On European (arable) farmland where soil organic matter levels are comparatively low and where there is scope to encourage and enable soil carbon sequestration, taking appropriate measures to boost and support the accumulation of soil organic matter could result in annual average increases of between 0.55 and 1.14t of carbon per hectare per annum (R. J. Zomer et al., 2017)[82].

Assessment option: Participating businesses should identify the current soil organic matter content of their improved farmland areas and take steps to maintain existing stores and, where possible, increase their soil organic matter levels.

Applicability: This management option is applicable to suckler herds and finishing units.

7.4.3. Minimising soil disturbance

Relevance: The extent to which soils can capture carbon for long-term storage greatly depends on the tillage system that is adopted on the farm and the resulting level of soil disturbance that is impacting on the soil structure and health. Research carried out by A. M. Silva-Olaya et al. (2013)[83] found that conventional tillage could lead to the loss of 80% of the carbon that may be accumulated within the soil over a period of one year, whilst reduced and minimum tillage appeared to result in much lower losses of 12% and 2% respectively. Another study by S. Mangalassery et al. (2014)[84] identified conventional tillage as having a net warming potential of 26% to 31% higher than zero tillage, and concluded that zero tillage systems may play an important role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions due to enabling increased soil carbon sequestration and leading to reduced emissions associated with fossil fuel use. This is supported by evidence from a study that found soil carbon levels to be twice as high in the top 5cm of soils where no tillage was applied compared to a conventional tillage system, whilst soil carbon levels at a depth of between 5cm and 15cm appeared to be 10% higher for no-till than for conventional tillage (R. P. Mathew, 2012[85]). T. Garnett (2010)[86] states that carbon can be sequestered in soil "… by reducing carbon losses…" and "… reducing soil disturbance (such as through reduced tillage)."

When compared to zero tillage systems, conventional tillage has furthermore been found to negatively affect the activity and structure of soil microbial communities, thereby compromising the health of soil life and reducing the levels of soil carbon and nitrogen (R. P. Mathew, 2012). Mechanical soil disturbance as a result of field tillage also negatively impacts on the structural integrity of the soil which can greatly affect the air, nutrient and water holding capacity, and lead to a poorer water infiltration rate, which in turn can make soils less resilient to drought or flooding issues.

Switching to a reduced tillage system on the other hand can improve the ability of the soil to infiltrate and retain water, thereby enabling it to better cope with periods of lacking or excessive rainfall (S. Tallman, 2012[87]).

In order to maximise soil carbon sequestration and minimise greenhouse gas emissions associated with field cultivation, it is therefore crucial to review tillage systems currently being adopted on suckler beef farms, and to encourage the move from conventional to reduced/minimum and ultimately no-tillage strategies.

Aim: This management option aims to encourage participants to adjust their soil tillage system by reducing their reliance on heavy-tillage implements, and reduce mechanical soil disturbance where possible in order to optimise soil carbon sequestration for long-term storage and preserve or reinstate good soil structure for optimum water and air holding capacity along with a greater water infiltration rate. This will contribute towards overall soil and soil microbial health and the reduction in net greenhouse gas emissions from the cattle production system. Reduced tillage will furthermore reduce fuel and machinery use which leads to a reduction in the emissions intensity associated with field management whilst lowering the cost of production to the business.

The scheme recognises that many farming businesses across Scotland apply a field management system that includes ploughing as part of a multiannual crop rotation or reseeding programme instead of carrying out annual ploughing. This delivers distinct benefits compared to annual ploughing in terms of greenhouse gas emissions. Based on the aforementioned study by A. M. Silva-Olaya et al. (2013), a business switching from annual ploughing to ploughing every 5 years as part of a 5-year crop rotation and/or reseeding programme could potentially reduce the proportionate losses of the annually captured and stored carbon from 80% to 16% per year. Although this still exceeds the measured losses from reduced tillage (12%) and zero-tillage (2%) systems, it results in significant carbon sequestration benefits by potentially quadrupling the quantity of carbon left in the soil when compared to annual ploughing. This management option therefore takes into account how regularly conventional tillage is taking place within participating businesses.

Emissions abatement potential: Based on data by A. M. Silva-Olaya et al. (2013), switching from conventional tillage to reduced/minimum or zero tillage could reduce the losses of annually captured soil carbon by 85% and 98% respectively.

Assessment option: Participating businesses should review the tillage system that is applied on their improved farmland on an annual basis, and take steps to reduce tillage where possible.

For the purpose of this management option, the following definitions apply for different tillage systems:

  • conventional tillage: the inversion of soil, possibly along with a previous crop or crop residue, involving soil disturbance to a depth greater than 10cm (4in); typical implements include ploughs and disc or power harrows amongst others
  • reduced/minimum tillage (conservation tillage): the manipulation of all or parts of the topsoil layer, possibly along with a previous crop or crop residue, involving soil disturbance to a depth of no more than 10cm (4in); typical implements include cultivators and rotavators along with harrows operating to an adjustable working depth amongst others
  • zero tillage (no-till): no inversion of the topsoil or any previous crop (residue); soil disturbance limited to topsoil slotting and scratching, or subsoil drainage and/or compaction management; eligible field management includes direct-drilling, tine-harrowing and aerating, as well as sward-lifting/sub-soiling/mole-ploughing with subsequent rolling to close over gaps caused by subsoil cultivation

Applicability: This management option is applicable to suckler herds and finishing units.

7.5. Improving grassland and grazing management (Category 5)

Aim of category:

This category aims to encourage participating businesses to take steps to increase soil carbon sequestration on their farmland and reduce the emissions intensity from their cattle production system(s) by

  • optimising grassland productivity through better grazing systems, targeted sward management including the use of legumes, herbs and diverse seed mixtures, and by making better use of alternative (winter) crops and deferred grazing where available and applicable.

The management options being proposed as part of this category will also benefit the wider ecosystem and local biodiversity by enhancing suitable habitats for a wide range of animals and soil microorganisms, and reducing soil erosion and nutrient losses.

Relevance: Grass is the main source of feeding for a vast majority of cattle enterprises across Scotland, many of which rely almost solely on grazed or preserved forages and fodder crops to meet the dietary needs of their cattle herds. Understanding what characteristics of a sward benefit cattle performance is important in order to target inputs accordingly and ensure that the sward is sufficiently productive without being exhausted by inadequate input management or unsustainable demands being put on it.

Planning effective grazing strategies in line with local weather conditions and grass growth, and exploring options to improve the sward contents in line with local environmental potential and constraints can greatly enhance sward productivity, thereby reducing the need for supplementary feeding. Purchased feed quantities can furthermore be minimised by looking at ways in which to produce as much of the winter diet as possible at home, whether that includes the production of preserved forages to supply to housed animals, standing fodder crops grazed in-situ where ground and weather conditions permit this, or by making use of the traditional concept of deferred winter grazing.

In addition to carrying out better targeted management on improved grassland, adequate management of upland grasslands by ensuring that no over-grazing is taking place can play a key role towards carbon sequestration by preserving important upland habitats, which also delivers secondary but nonetheless important environmental benefits by means of local habitat and biodiversity preservation and enhancement.

7.5.1. Maintaining ground cover

Relevance: A functioning ecosystem aims to maintain a covered ground at all times. This protects topsoil from being subjected to wind and/or water erosion, which in turn protects nearby watercourses from sediment pollution. An actively growing sward or crop utilises nutrients which may otherwise be lost into the atmosphere, leached into the groundwater, or washed off into nearby watercourses, whilst crop residue such as stubble can hold a certain amount of nutrients which reduces nutrient losses throughout the winter and makes nutrients available to following crops in spring.

Ground cover can also provide important habitats and food sources for local animals as well as for soil life, particularly during the winter when food is in limited supply and when there is little chance of anything else establishing on bare soil.

Ensuring that ground is covered can therefore benefit the climate through potentially reduced emissions, reduce topsoil losses, minimise the risk of sediment and nutrient pollution of watercourses, and deliver important benefits to support the local biodiversity and soil life.

Aim: This management option aims to encourage participants to review their current system of maintaining ground cover as part of their field management, and to take steps to reduce the length of time that soil is exposed for by maintaining a ground cover throughout or at least for the majority of the year. This is of particular relevance during the colder and wetter winter months when higher precipitation poses a greater risk of soil erosion and nutrient leaching. Maintaining a ground cover can be achieved by focusing on actively growing crops that typically remain in the ground for more than one season, i.e. grasslands, or seasonal crops including winter forage and fodder crops, cover and catch crops, undersown crops, and green manures. Ground cover can also be maintained in the form of residue from a previous crop, i.e. stubble.

Maintaining continuous ground cover will help to minimise greenhouse gas emissions and environmental concerns associated with nutrient losses via the atmosphere and/or leaching, as well as soil erosion with any associated potential implications for nearby watercourses.

Emissions abatement potential: Based on data by A. M. Silva-Olaya et al. (2013)[88], maintaining a ground cover by switching from conventional tillage to reduced/minimum or zero tillage could reduce the losses of annually captured soil carbon by 85% and 98% respectively.

Assessment option: Participating businesses should identify the length of time that the ground in different fields on their improved farmland is left without a ground cover on an annual basis.

Applicability: This management option is applicable to suckler herds and finishing units.

7.5.2. Maintaining living roots

Relevance: The extent to which available nutrients can be utilised is directly dependant on there being actively growing plants present. An actively growing sward or crop, or more specifically its root system, is able to take up such nutrients which may otherwise be lost into the atmosphere, leached into the groundwater, or washed off into nearby watercourses. A continuously maintained and preserved living root system is also essential for providing an important habitat and food source for soil life which can be adversely affected if subjected to prolonged periods without actively growing plants enriching the soil. An absence of living roots means that there is no carbon being drawn into the soil, and the resulting unstable soil life community can lead to a lower rate of carbon sequestration. This can potentially significantly reduce the total annual level of soil carbon capture taking place. Ensuring that the soil contains living roots can therefore benefit the climate through potentially reduced emissions and increased carbon sequestration, minimise the risk of nutrient pollution of watercourses, and deliver important benefits to support the local soil life as well as a range of animals relying on actively growing plants as a food source.

Aim: This management option aims to encourage participants to review their current field management with regards to maintaining a living root system, and to take steps to reduce the length of time that soil is left without living roots. This is of particular relevance during the colder and wetter winter months when higher precipitation poses a greater risk of nutrient leaching. Maintaining a living root system can be achieved by focusing on actively growing crops that typically remain in the ground for more than one season, i.e. grasslands, or by following one crop immediately with another one, such as seasonal crops including winter forage and fodder crops, cover and catch crops, undersown crops, and green manures. This will help to minimise greenhouse gas emissions and environmental concerns associated with nutrient losses via the atmosphere and/or leaching, and help to support an active soil life and microbial community by ensuring that important soil cycles can be continued throughout the year.

Emissions abatement potential: Based on data by A. M. Silva-Olaya et al. (2013)[89], maintaining a living root system by switching from conventional tillage to reduced/minimum or zero tillage could reduce the losses of annually captured soil carbon by 85% and 98% respectively.

Assessment option: Participating businesses should identify the length of time that soil on their improved farmland contains a living root system on an annual basis. Unlike the management option aimed at maintaining ground cover, this management option requires actively growing crops to fulfil its aim. Any crop residue such as stubble or crops that have been sprayed off using a desiccant or herbicide are therefore not eligible.

Applicability: This management option is applicable to suckler herds and finishing units.

7.5.3. Increasing legumes within the grass sward

Relevance: Nitrogen fertiliser can be a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions where applications are not carried out in a timely and properly targeted manner, and it is a costly input. Alternative sources of Nitrogen, such as from within the sward using Nitrogen-fixing legumes, can offer an efficient means of providing the grassland with a steady supply of this important nutrient. This helps to enhance sward productivity whilst reducing the risk of Nitrogen being lost into the atmosphere or washed out of the soil via leaching into nearby watercourses where it can cause environmental issues and damage aquatic ecosystems.

Focusing on supplying Nitrogen from within the sward via organic plant source rather than from synthetic fertiliser also delivers distinct benefits for the local ecosystem and soil life in particular due to the negative impact that synthetic fertiliser can have on soil microbial communities.

Aim: This management option aims to encourage participants to review the current legume content within their improved grasslands, and to take steps to maintain or increase the level of legumes in order to make the most of Nitrogen-fixation taking place within the sward. This will include careful consideration of the type of legume that is best suited to individual production systems and climatic and environmental constraints, and will rely on weed control being carried out in such a way that avoids the use of those herbicides that can severely affect clovers and other legumes. This will help to provide important Nitrogen supplies from within the sward whilst minimising greenhouse gas emissions and environmental concerns associated with nutrient losses via the atmosphere and/or leaching, and help to support an active soil life and microbial community through a reduced need for synthetic Nitrogen applications.

Emissions abatement potential: According to E. S. Jensen et al. (2011)[90], the use of leguminous plants can reduce Nitrous Oxide emissions by approx. 60% compared to cultivation of using crops that rely on added Nitrogen fertiliser. Although the inclusion of legumes within a grass sward is unlikely to achieve the above greenhouse gas reductions, it will nonetheless help to significantly reduce total emissions associated with the sward.

Assessment option: Participating businesses should assess the current legume content within their grass swards on an annual basis, and take steps to increase the level of legumes found on their grasslands where possible.

Applicability: This management option is applicable to suckler herds and finishing units.

7.5.4. Sward diversity

Relevance: Grasslands are an ecosystem relying on intricate processes taking place between plants. Left to nature, they typically develop a diverse composition and include a wide range of plants, each with its own characteristics and ability to thrive in a certain environment and cope with specific climatic challenges. The more diverse a sward is, the more resilient it therefore becomes. Thanks to what would typically be a combination of different plants thriving in warmer and colder weather, such swards can also show prolonged growth thanks to an extended growing season.

Sward diversity contributes important benefits for the plants contained within. Different plants can capture and release various specific minerals and trace elements which may be traded within the sward using soil microbial communities. This can boost the overall health and productivity of the sward and with it enhance cattle performance through better grass growth and a greater supply of important nutritional elements along with potential health properties, e.g. via inclusion of herbaceous plants with anthelmintic properties.

A diverse sward can result in a diverse and complex root system with some shallower but wider growing roots, and other deeper tap roots reaching far into the ground. Such a better developed root system benefits soil health, provides increased access to nutrients, minerals and water, and supports important soil communities which rely on a living and diverse root system. A diverse sward not only supports a wide range of plants but with it attracts a multitude of animals all requiring their own specific habitat and different food sources, therefore greatly enhancing the local biodiversity both above and below ground.

Aim: This management option aims to encourage participants to review and identify the various plants currently grown within their improved grassland swards, and to take steps to maintain or increase sward diversity. This not only includes different grasses but also legumes and herbs, although further plant types such as brassicas may be deemed beneficial for inclusion as well.

Emissions abatement potential: Assessing the exact potential for grass sward diversity to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is extremely difficult, as the emissions abatement potential ultimately depends on a wide range of factors and the actual benefits arising from increasing sward diversity. Where a diverse sward contributes towards the overall quality and productivity of the grass and thereby enables improved grassland management through a combination of introducing rotational grazing management in conjunction with better forage quality and a reseeding policy, emissions abatement modelling conducted by J. Bell et al. (2020)[91] and using a rearer finisher scenario shows that this could reduce the emissions intensity of the production system by 6.3%.

Assessment option: Participating businesses should identify the sward diversity on their improved grasslands on an annual basis, and take steps to try and enhance the sward diversity where needed. For obvious reasons, weeds such as thistles, docks, rushes, buttercup and other plants deemed to be undesirable do not count towards sward diversity.

Applicability: This management option is applicable to suckler herds and finishing units.

7.5.5. Improved in-bye grazing management

Relevance: The way in which grasslands are utilised and grazed can greatly impact on their potential productivity and ability to recover, and the extent to which they can capture carbon. Grasslands that are grazed as part of a rotational or paddock system whereby stock is moved around fields to provide important grazing breaks can result in a greater level of carbon sequestration taking place than is the case with continuous grazing systems or grazing and cutting systems. It leads to a more efficient grass utilisation, less wastage, and increases the quality and yields of the grassland. Applying an effective rotational strategy can therefore help to not only boost grassland productivity for improved cattle performance, but can also increase soil carbon sequestration.

Aim: This management option aims to encourage participants to review the current grazing system applied on their improved grassland swards, and to take steps to rotate stock around fields to provide important grazing breaks for sward recovery.

This will help to increase sward productivity along with the quality of the grazing, thereby reducing the emissions intensity from the cattle diet as a result of a lesser reliance on supplementary feed, and can help to maximise soil carbon sequestration.

Emissions abatement potential: Emissions abatement modelling conducted by J. Bell et al. (2020)[92] and using a rearer finisher scenario has found that improved grassland management through a combination of introducing rotational grazing management in conjunction with better forage quality and a reseeding policy can reduce the emissions intensity of the production system by 6.3%.

Assessment option: Participating businesses should identify the grazing system applied on their improved farmland on an annual basis. A grazing diary will need to be kept where semi-rotational or rotational/paddock grazing is taking place to include dates of stock being moved out of or into a field, the total area of that field, and the stocking density per hectare.

Applicability: This management option is applicable to suckler herds and finishing units.

7.5.6. Improved upland and hill grazing management

Relevance: The way in which upland grasslands are utilised and grazed can greatly impact on their potential productivity and ability to recover, and the extent to which they can capture carbon. Many upland and hill areas store vast quantities of carbon, and inappropriate grazing systems can jeopardise the ability of those soils to not only retain current carbon stocks but also to capture further carbon. This is a particular issue where moorlands and peatlands are over-grazed and potentially also subjected to poaching damage due to inappropriate stocking levels being applied within the context of environmental and climatic constraints, the grazing value of the upland and hill vegetation, and additional grazing pressures from other livestock and wild herbivores including deer. In order to ensure that rough grazing areas can continue to safely act as vast carbon sinks, it is therefore imperative that the upland and hill vegetation and with it the soils are not damaged by over-grazing but instead maintained in suitable condition which requires targeted grazing and animal activity rather than a stock exclusion. This will maintain the upland vegetation in actively growing condition to capture additional carbon and provide a wide range of different habitats and food sources for the local upland biodiversity.

Aim: This management option aims to encourage participants to review the current grazing system applied on their rough grazing areas (i.e. hill and upland ground) with help of a herbivore impact assessment in order to establish whether current stocking densities are appropriate and sustainable to preserve upland and hill grazing areas in a good condition for carbon sequestration. The outcome from the herbivore impact assessment will then be used to allow participating businesses to apply targeted changes to their current upland grazing system where necessary.

Emissions abatement potential: Clear data on the potential to reduce emissions through better upland and hill grazing management is not yet available at this stage. However, peatlands are widely recognised as one of the most important carbon sinks in the world, and minimising any damage cause by inappropriate herbivore activity can therefore logically be assumed to be of significant importance in maintaining peatlands in a suitable condition as carbon sinks rather than a carbon source.

Further research is therefore needed to quantify the emissions abatement potential of maintaining peatlands in a suitable condition with the help of appropriate cattle/herbivore grazing.

Assessment option: Participating businesses should carry out an annual herbivore impact assessment in late winter to identify if the current grazing system applied on their rough grazing has caused over-grazing issues over the past 12 months. A grazing diary will need to be kept to reflect adjustments made on the basis of the outcome from the herbivore impact assessment.

The assessment will generate a result showing no, low, medium, high or very high impact. High and very high impact is undesirable as it suggests that damaging over-grazing is occurring along with potential site-specific poaching issues. No impact is equally undesirable as these upland and hill habitats require some grazing activity to maintain the vegetation in good condition and actively growing, which in turn enables carbon sequestration along with supporting biodiversity.

Applicability: This management option is applicable to suckler herds and finishing units but will be more relevant to suckler systems as these would typically be found on extensive upland units.

7.5.7. Outwintering systems

Relevance: Outwintering cattle is not suitable and possible for every system but can offer distinct advantages over housed systems by simplifying operations and relying on less infrastructure, machinery and equipment. It follows the concept of 'taking the cow to the feed', i.e. taking advantage of a natural system which involves as little inputs and resources as possible. Providing a standing crop for cattle grazing during the winter requires less machinery and fuel for harvest, transportation and feeding, needs no bedding, and does not rely on infrastructure which comes with associated emissions, particularly from cement manufacturing for concrete, and significant costs. Manure is deposited in situ, thereby avoiding the need for organic manure storage, handling and applications.

Overall, outwintering systems can therefore result in significant greenhouse gas emissions savings.

Aim: This management option aims to encourage participants to review the current wintering system for their cattle, and, where applicable, take steps to rely as much as possible on outwintering their herd. This can be achieved either by applying a deferred grazing system, or by growing alternative crops such as winter forage or fodder crops.

Emissions abatement potential: Due to the varied nature of different options available for outwintering cattle, it is difficult to establish an exact level of greenhouse gas emissions reductions. This relies on a multitude of factors including its benefit in reducing the need for inputs which would otherwise be needed, and these are closely related to specific systems. However, emissions abatement modelling conducted by J. Bell et al. (2020)[93] and using a rearer finisher scenario has found that improved grassland management, which could ultimately support outwintering systems on improved farmland ground through a greater availability and quality of grazing, could reduce the emissions intensity of the production system by 6.3%.

Assessment option: Participating businesses should identify their wintering system including herd time spent outdoors, and the level of supplementary feed being provided, on an annual basis.

7.6. Improving nutrient management (Category 6)

Aims of category:

This category aims to encourage participating businesses to take steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as a result of nutrient losses on their farmland, and reduce the emissions intensity from their cattle production system(s) by

  • improving on-farm nutrient utilisation by better targeting nutrient inputs for an optimum crop response;
  • reducing synthetic fertiliser inputs by maximising the use of slurry and farmyard manure along with alternative sources of Nitrogen.

The management options being proposed as part of this category will also deliver environmental benefits and help to protect the local biodiversity and soil life by reducing the risk of nutrient run-off or leaching into the surrounding ecosystem and watercourses, or adverse reactions within the target areas as a result of inappropriate nutrient management and untimely or poorly targeted applications. An increased focus on organic and within-sward sources of Nitrogen will deliver further benefits for soil microbial life as a result of a lesser reliance on synthetic fertilisers.

Relevance: Meeting nutrient demands of a grassland sward or crop is crucial to ensure optimum plant performance which in turn helps to support good cattle productivity. The main focus of any nutrient management plan typically lies with the major nutrients Nitrogen (N), Phosphorus (P), and Potassium (K), of which the plant requires higher amounts compared to other nutrients. Nutrients are expensive to purchase and, if left unused by the plant, can lead to environmental issues as a result of nutrient leaching and run-off into nearby watercourses or sensitive habitats where they can negatively impact the local biodiversity and damage ecosystems.

Further pressures on the environment are caused by greenhouse gas emissions caused by nutrient losses into the atmosphere through volatilisation, as well as the manufacturing and transportation of synthetic fertilisers, the storage and handling of organic manures, and the general application of organic or inorganic fertilisers. A report by N. Lampkin et al. (2019)[94] states that almost 50% of Scottish Nitrogen applications taking place during 2017, the equivalent to an average of 92kg of Nitrogen per hectare, were not taken up by the target crop and as a result were lost to the environment.

In order to support optimum sward or crop production for improved livestock performance whilst minimising the risk of negatively affecting the climate or environment, it is therefore crucial to better target nutrient inputs, reduce nutrient wastage, and take steps to avoid nutrient losses via greenhouse gas emissions where possible.

7.6.1. Covering slurry stores

Relevance: The way in which slurry is collected, handled, stored and applied can greatly influence the extent to which any nutrient losses via methane, ammonia and/or nitrous oxide emissions occur. A large proportion of slurry associated methane and nitrous oxide emissions occur during storage, and open slurry stores where the slurry has not formed a natural crust can significantly enhance the potential for greenhouse gas emissions.

According to a recent feasibility study, greenhouse gas emissions associated with slurry management contribute 7% towards total emissions from Scottish agriculture and 1.3% towards total Scottish emissions (J. Wiltshire, 2018[95]). The same study estimates that there is a potential to reduce agricultural greenhouse gas emissions by 180 kt CO2e per annum if slurry stores were covered in order to prevent losses of ammonia into the atmosphere, which would equate to a reduction in total emissions from Scottish agriculture by 2%. With approx. 40% of this slurry, or 2.57 Mt, being produced by beef cattle, there is an opportunity for suckler beef producers across Scotland to cumulatively reduce annual emissions from slurry storage by 72 kt CO2e. For every 100kg of slurry produced, this could potentially reduce emissions by 2.8kg and could lead to a reduction in total emissions from Scottish agriculture by 0.8%, therefore making the covering of slurry stores a major opportunity to deliver quick and significant results.

In addition to the obvious benefits of covering slurry stores for the climate, preventing entry of rainwater into the slurry store can, depending on local precipitation, significantly increase the storage capacity of slurry stores, thereby enabling the business to better target slurry applications as nutrient inputs rather than for simple waste management purposes. This not only makes better use of nutrients and minimises issues associated with limited slurry store capacity, but undiluted slurry results in a lesser requirement to having to handle large quantities, therefore reducing total application rates and numbers of applications to the fields which in turn reduces fuel use and associated expenses to the business.

A case study conducted by Defra, Natural England and the Environment Agency[96] found that covering the slurry store increased the farm's storage capacity by 25% which led to savings of more than £1,600 per annum.

Aim: This management option aims to encourage participants to cover their slurry stores in order to minimise any losses of valuable nutrients in the form of greenhouse gas emissions during storage of the slurry, and avoid slurry dilution with rainwater.

The latter will help increase the slurry storage capacity and enable more targeted slurry applications when plants are actively growing, rather than having to spread slurry for mere waste and storage management purposes. This will improve nutrient management efficiencies by supplying plants with nutrients when these are needed. Covering slurry stores will ultimately reduce greenhouse gas emissions occurring during storage, as well as during and after slurry applications. Further benefits for the business include a greater availability of nutrients on-farm and lower expenses associated with slurry handling and applications.

Emissions abatement potential: A study by the Silsoe Research Institute (2000)[97] has found that covering a slurry store can reduce ammonia emissions from cattle slurry by 78%. This ties in closely with the aforementioned case study conducted by Defra, Natural England and the Environment Agency which noted similar emissions reductions of 80% and an additional Nitrogen availability of 360kg.

Assessment option: Participating businesses should cover any currently open slurry stores and assess the effectiveness of any existing slurry store covers in terms of minimising any potential greenhouse gas emissions or rainwater entry to ensure that the covers are functioning properly.

Applicability: This management option is applicable to any suckler herds and finishing units operating a slurry system.

7.6.2. Improving organic Nitrogen use efficiency

Relevance: Organic manures are a valuable source of on-farm nutrients and can provide a cost-effective alternative to purchased fertiliser to help boost plant growth and productivity. Making best use of this organic fertiliser does however depend on accurate and regularly updated nutrient planning, timely application(s) and efficient application methods. If Nitrogen inputs are not properly targeted, significant nutrient losses may occur into the atmosphere or into the nearby soil and water environment via volatilisation and/or leaching. This not only results in higher greenhouse gas emissions but can lead to environmental pollution concerns. Poorly targeted nutrient inputs also impact on enterprise efficiency and profitability as this can lead to a greater reliance on purchased fertiliser to meet plant nutrient demands.

Aim: This management option aims to encourage participants to better target manure applications in order to improve their organic Nitrogen use efficiency and as a result reduce greenhouse gas emissions and any associated nutrient losses during or after application.

Ensuring that organic Nitrogen is used efficiently relies on effective nutrient planning which considers the Nitrogen content of the manure, ideally using recent analysis, as well as the type of crop that is growing and its specific nutritional demands at different key stages of production as well as throughout the growing season. This information should then be used to calculate appropriate manure application rates. Manure should be applied in suitable weather conditions and when the crop is actively growing in order to ensure that the plants are able to properly utilise nutrient inputs at the time of application. Better utilisation of organic Nitrogen can be further enhanced by replacing less accurate application equipment such as broadcast slurry spreaders with precision application equipment for improved targeting of organic nutrients, e.g. through band-spreading, trailing shoe application or shallow injection.

This leads to improved nutrient use efficiencies, lower greenhouse gas emissions and a better enterprise performance.

Further benefits obtained from an improved utilisation of organic nutrients include improved profitability and additional greenhouse gas emissions savings as a result of a lesser reliance on manufactured synthetic fertilisers delivered to the farm from further afield. A greater focus on utilising organic manure as a source of Nitrogen can also enhance soil health by introducing additional organic matter onto fields, and can support vulnerable soil microbial communities by minimising their exposure to synthetic inputs that can adversely affect soil life. Soil animal and microbial communities including the extremely valuable and often underappreciated earthworm will also benefit from and be safe-guarded by better targeting of manures and a greater organic Nitrogen use efficiency due to a reduced risk of over-applications leading to environmental pollution issues and the killing of soil life.

Emissions abatement potential: A study conducted by J. M. Moorby et al. (2007)[98] found that maximising the utilisation of Nitrogen within manures, for instance by using a recognised fertiliser planning tool in conjunction with regular manure analysis, can reduce direct Nitrous Oxide emissions by up to 5%. According to the same study, further emissions reductions can be obtained by better timing manure applications during the growing season in line with conditions and plants actively needing nutrients, in which case Nitrous Oxide emissions can be reduced by an additional 2% to 10%.

Data provided within a case study conducted by Defra, Natural England and the Environment Agency[99] shows that the use of low emission precision spreading equipment can furthermore reduce ammonia losses by approx. 60% when compared to a splash plate spreader.

Data presented by J. Bell et al. (2020)[100] states that synthetic Nitrogen savings of 10kg per hectare can be made through improved planning of organic Nitrogen use, and again by switching to a low emission spreading system. Further reductions can be gained from the use of nitrification inhibitors by lowering Nitrous Oxide emissions by up to 50%.

When applying that research to a model farm scenario, emissions abatement modelling conducted by J. Bell et al. (2020) and using a rearer finisher scenario has found that improved manure and nutrient management together with the use of nitrification inhibitors can reduce the emissions intensity of the production system by 6.9%.

Assessment option: This management option ties in with the scheme requirement to carry out regular slurry analysis and to outline a nutrient and waste management plan. Participating businesses will be required to calculate their organic Nitrogen use efficiency on an annual basis, and aim to increase this efficiency where possible by taking appropriate steps such as the adoption of low emissions and precision spreading equipment, or by better timing and planning organic manure applications.

Applicability: This management option is applicable to any suckler herds and finishing units where slurry or farmyard manure is handled and applied to grasslands and/or crops.

7.6.3. Improving synthetic Nitrogen use efficiency

Relevance: Nitrogen is an important nutrient for healthy and productive plant growth and development. Where the Nitrogen supply from within the sward and soil or from organic manure sources falls short of the requirements of a specific crop, the application of purchased synthetic Nitrogen fertiliser can help to make up the shortfall in order to boost plant productivity and performance. Ensuring that Nitrogen is properly utilised by the plan does however depend on accurate and regularly updated nutrient planning, timely application and efficient application methods. If Nitrogen inputs are not properly targeted, significant nutrient losses into the atmosphere or the nearby soil and water environment via leaching may occur which not only results in higher greenhouse gas emissions but can lead to environmental pollution concerns and impact on enterprise efficiency and profitability.

Ensuring that Nitrogen is used efficiently relies on effective nutrient planning which takes into account the type of crop that is growing and its specific nutritional demands at different key stages of production and throughout the growing season. This information is then used to calculate adequate fertiliser application rates which should be carried out when the crop is actively growing and in suitable weather conditions to ensure that the plants are able to properly utilise nutrient inputs at the time of application. Better utilisation of Nitrogen fertiliser can be further enhanced by upgrading or replacing fertiliser application equipment with precision technology.

This can for instance enable businesses to carry out GPS mapping to plot areas within a field with differing Nitrogen fertiliser requirements using previous yield records or leaf cover, and utilise variable rate application equipment to target Nitrogen fertiliser levels accordingly between different regions within the field. This leads to improved nutrient use efficiencies and can significantly reduce the total quantity of fertiliser required, thereby lowering greenhouse gas emissions and improving enterprise performance and profitability.

Aim: This management option aims to encourage participants to better target purchased Nitrogen fertiliser in order to improve their synthetic Nitrogen use efficiency and as a result reduce greenhouse gas emissions and any associated nutrient losses during or after application. Boosting the efficiency of Nitrogen use leads to financial savings and additional emissions savings by reducing the reliance on manufactured synthetic fertilisers delivered to the farm from further afield.

Emissions abatement potential: A study conducted by J. M. Moorby et al. (2007)[101] found that well targeted Nitrogen applications can reduce direct Nitrous Oxide emissions by 5% by ensuring that plant Nitrogen requirements are not exceeded during application. This may be achieved by using a recognised fertiliser planning tool in conjunction with best practice recommendations and well-timed applications.

Emissions abatement modelling conducted by J. Bell et al. (2020) and using a rearer finisher scenario has found that improved manure and nutrient management together with the use of nitrification inhibitors can reduce the emissions intensity of the production system by 6.9%.

Assessment option: This management option ties in with the scheme requirement to complete a nutrient management plan as part of the requirement to carry out soil analysis. Participating businesses will be required to calculate their Nitrogen use efficiency from synthetic Nitrogen fertiliser on an annual basis, and aim to increase this efficiency where possible by taking appropriate steps such as the adoption of precision (variable rate application) equipment and by better timing and planning fertiliser applications.

Applicability: This management option is applicable to any suckler herds and finishing units that use synthetic Nitrogen fertiliser.

7.6.4. Reducing synthetic Nitrogen fertiliser use

Relevance: Nitrogen is an important nutrient for healthy and productive plant growth and development. Where the Nitrogen supply from within the sward and soil, or from organic manure sources falls short of the requirements of a specific crop, the application of purchased synthetic Nitrogen fertiliser can help to make up the shortfall in order to boost plant productivity and performance. However, synthetic Nitrogen fertilisers incur significant emissions long before they are being applied to a field, including from the manufacturing process and transportation to the farm. Their use can accelerate soil acidification which leads to a greater need for lime applications to avoid poorer plant performance as a result of a lesser ability to utilise nutrients where the pH is lowered. Synthetic Nitrogen fertiliser can also negatively impact on soil life communities which rely on symbiotic relationships with actively growing plants to exchange and trade nutrients from the soil and organic matter in return for carbon containing sugars that are released into the soil by the plants. If the plant Nitrogen requirement is mostly or fully met by synthetic Nitrogen fertilisers, there is no need for the plant to make sugars available to soil microbes, and this in turn leads to a decline in soil microbial activity and with it the deterioration of soil health as a whole. From an economic point of view, synthetic Nitrogen fertilisers are also expensive and can therefore significantly impact on enterprise profitability.

It is therefore in the environment's and farm's best interest to minimise reliance on synthetic Nitrogen fertilisers as much as possible by focusing on alternative sources of Nitrogen such as organic manures and Nitrogen-fixing legumes.

Aim: This management option aims to encourage participants to reduce their use of synthetic Nitrogen fertiliser through a combination of maximising the utilisation of organic manures and establishing (more) Nitrogen-fixing legumes within the sward. This requires a sound understanding of the total annual Nitrogen requirement of different crops in order to establish what proportion of that demand is currently being met by synthetic Nitrogen fertiliser, and where there are opportunities to reduce this. Reducing business reliance on synthetic fertiliser use whilst increasing utilisation of alternative sources of Nitrogen so as not to compromise grass/crop performance will lead to reduced greenhouse gas emissions, benefit soil health and soil life, and reduce costs associated with nutrient management.

This management option closely ties in with and complements other management options focusing on improving organic Nitrogen use efficiency and increasing the use of Nitrogen-fixing legumes within the sward.

Emissions abatement potential: Synthetic Nitrogen fertiliser use can be reduced by making better use of organic manures available to the farm. A study conducted by J. M. Moorby et al. (2007)[102] found that maximising the utilisation of Nitrogen within manures, for instance by using a recognised fertiliser planning tool in conjunction with regular manure analysis, can reduce direct Nitrous Oxide emissions by up to 5%. According to the same study, further emissions reductions can be obtained by better timing manure applications during the growing season in line with conditions and plants actively needing nutrients, in which case Nitrous Oxide emissions can be reduced by an additional 2% to 10%.

Synthetic Nitrogen use can be further reduced as stated by data presented by J. Bell et al. (2020)[103] which noted that savings of 10kg per hectare can be made through improved planning of organic Nitrogen use, and again by switching to a low emission spreading system.

Using emissions abatement modelling within a rearer finisher scenario, J. Bell et al. (2020) found that improved manure and nutrient management can reduce the overall emissions intensity of the production system by 2.8%.

Assessment option: Participating businesses should identify the annual Nitrogen requirements of their different swards/crops and assess what proportion of the annual Nitrogen requirement is being met by organic manures, Nitrogen-fixing legumes, and synthetic Nitrogen fertiliser.

Applicability: This management option is applicable to suckler herds and finishing units.


Contact

Email: alistair.prior@gov.scot