Turning organic can help farmers hit net zero, report finds

Researchers studied dozens of measures farmers could take to help tackle the climate crisis.

Scotland’s agricultural industry can cut its greenhouse gas emissions by more than a third by taking steps including turning organic and planting more trees, a report suggests.

Researchers studied dozens of measures farmers could take to help tackle the climate crisis and found a 38% emissions reduction could be achieved by 2045.

This finding surpasses 35% threshold earlier research indicated is necessary for Scotland achieve to the government’s pledged target of net zero emissions by 2045.

Environmental charity WWF Scotland commissioned the latest report, Delivering on Net Zero: Scottish Agriculture, carried out by the Organic Policy, Business and Research Consultancy.

It found: “In theory, if taken up 100% and accounting for no interactions, the measures could reduce Scottish agricultural emissions by almost 100%.

“In practice, there are many reasons why measures might not be implemented in combination, or adopted, by all farmers.

“We estimated that the most promising measures could potentially deliver 2.9 Mt CO2e annually, or 38% of 2017 GHG emissions, and concluded that the 35% target is achievable by 2045.”

Researchers studied 37 different measures including such as reducing nitrogen fertiliser use, spreading more organic manure, bringing in feed additives to reduce methane production from animals, and improving animal health and breeding.

Among the changes behind the largest potential cuts to emissions was turning organic – which was found to deliver more than a quarter (27%) of the target with 40% uptake.

Agroforestry – integrating trees on farms – is predicted to deliver a fifth (21%) of the target with just 30% uptake, assuming 10% of farmland is used for trees.

WWF Scotland is calling on the Scottish Government to review support for farmers to help them achieve the target.

Sheila George, the charity’s food and environment policy manager said: “Agriculture is at risk from a changing climate but can be part of the climate solution – our land is our biggest natural defence against climate change and farmers and other land managers have a key role in protecting it.

“We need to produce food in a way that reduces emissions and locks up more carbon. By adapting our farming methods, Scotland could be at the forefront of the global transition to climate-friendly farming with unique export and branding opportunities arising.

“To get there, we need to see a reframing of rural policy, financial support along with advice and training available for land managers.”

Ruth Taylor, National Farmers Union Scotland climate change policy manager, warned of the need for changes to be practical and maintain production.

She said: “Climate change is a critically important issue for Scottish agriculture, and it is vital that farmers are part of the solution to climate change.

“Any policy introduced to tackle climate change must consider the long-term sustainability of farming and food production in Scotland.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said the government has been clear Scotland’s agricultural industry is part of the solution to climate change and praised the 29.4% reduction since 1990 but said more work needs to be done to reach net zero by 2045.

He said: “We encourage all of farmers and crofters to explore the practical examples, advice and information that is available through the Scottish Government supported Farming For a Better Climate and Monitor Farm programmes as well as the Farm Advisory Service.”

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