An island known as ‘Scotland in miniature’ could be used as a blueprint to boost Scottish farming output while reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Nick Drainey reports.
Farmers on the Isle of Arran are working together to reduce their carbon footprint by measuring methane, carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide emissions, then finding ways to reduce them.
The Soil Association Scotland-led Rural Innovation Support Service group of 15 farmers and affiliates is being helped by Alexander Pirie of SAC Consulting, part of Scotland’s Rural College.
He says: “Arran has a dairy producer, a host of beef and sheep producers, as well as cereal production and farms doing fruit and vegetables.
It is a microcosm of the wider Scottish [agricultural] economy.” And because of a wide-ranging topography which ranges from high mountain and moorland to lowland pastures and arable areas, Mr Pirie says it is ‘a miniature Scotland’.
He says: “My hope is we can reduce the carbon footprint of the island, quantify it, then, by identifying common areas for improvement, we can take a collaborative approach.
“By tackling issues around farm efficiency and best practice, as well as the environment and climate change, with an emphasis on building strong local community engagement, Arran could contribute in some small way to the solution for Scotland as a whole.”
The group is using SAC Consulting’s Agrecalc tool to audit its emissions, as well as the carbon the members are sequestering into the farmed landscape.
Mr Pirie is then helping co-ordinate the actions the farmers can take to reduce their emissions.
One area is lambing. He says: “We are trying to increase the number of lambs conceived, born, reared to a mature weight and then sold.
It is about increasing the saleable output of a farm.
“Having the mother on-farm will generate methane, so if we can get more lambs off per head of ewe, that will bring down the carbon footprint of the farm.” Fertiliser use is a controversial farming practice and the scheme is looking at the health of the soil, which is historically quite acidic on Arran.
To compensate for the loss of productivity in the soil, farmers will have been applying fertiliser, often inorganic nitrogen.
Increasing productivity would offset carbon, but farmers could also use lime.
Mr Pirie says” “By doing that it will give the soil a new lease of life and start to utilise some of the nutrients locked up in it, and there will be less of a requirement to bring on imported inorganic fertiliser.” David Henderson, who farms beef and sheep at Kilpatrick Farm on Arran, says: “I have done our carbon audits and our emissions were good partly due to our stocking rates.
But I am in the group to learn.
“We know that future farm programmes will be based around carbon footprints, whether we like it or not, so the question is, how do we adapt?
Farmers need to work together more and be more open about the good and the bad.” Mr Pirie says that historically Scotland has a good level of performance when it comes to agriculture and climate change, despite criticism from some quarters.
He says: “In terms of the global picture, agriculture in Scotland is a progressive industry and climate change has climbed the political and agricultural agenda very quickly over the last few years.”
With a target of net zero carbon emissions by 2040, there is still a long way to go.
Visit the Net Zero home page to cut through the jargon and view our brand new showcase of some of the measures already having positive results on farms up and down the country.