Scotland has committed to reaching net zero for 2045. An Arable Scotland round table discussed the challenges and opportunities this presents for its farmers.
John Stirling who farms 800 hectares on the east coast, said the introduction of the farm’s distillery in 2015 has completely changed their business philosophy to a focus on the environment.
He said: “Sustainability now encompasses the whole company. Demand for crops is changing and people are looking more into what’s going into crops and the end product. It’s one of the most sustainable distilleries in the world.”
The farm has changed its rotation by looking into more heritage varieties and introduced peas which are also used to makes spirits. The distillery has reduced farm waste by turning ‘wonky’ potatoes into high value vodka and boasts short supply chain miles from crop to bottle.
Mr Stirling said that the farm had encountered major challenges on its journey to net zero including how to record the fall in the businesses’ carbon footprint.
“However, if you’ve got the philosophy its actually relatively straight forward to take large steps quickly and still have a commercial farm.”
Three key barriers to reaching net zero were identified by Scotland Rural College’s Dr Gemma Miller. These were poor communication and translation of research into practice; capital investment into technologies that can increase efficiency; and media fuelling scepticism through negative press on agriculture.
Dr Miller said: “There’s a risk associated to making a big change on farm – it can take a long time to take effect, and if it doesn’t work it can take a long time to fix.
“We also need to change from the [media’s] negative rhetoric [on agriculture] to how farmers can be part of the solution, not the problem.”
Dr Wendy Russell, professor of molecular nutrition at the Rowett Institute added that the introduction of more novel crops and heritage varieties like the ones being grown by Mr Stirling could also help Scotland move to being climate neutral, while producing healthier food.
She said: “Landrace and heritage [barley] varieties are much higher in compounds we think are beneficial for health like beta glucan.
“Hemp also has a really interesting nutritional profile – it’s high in protein, fibre, micronutrients and minerals and it’s very low input. Hemp can be extensively utilised, I don’t think there’s a part of the plant that cannot be used.”
The opportunities to create more circular economies that reduce the need for fossil fuels are ‘enormous’ for Scottish farmers, according to Derek Stewart, business sector lead in AgriFood at the James Hutton Institute.
He told the round table: “We have to change the way we operate all our processes and move away from a fossil fuel driven process - we can do this through a circular economy. Farmers are fantastic at this because they reuse things very well.
“Scottish agriculture is also fantastic at producing cereals, so we’ve got a lot of straw which has a lot of alternative uses. In Denmark for example, they are using barley straw in high-end cosmetics. The value of that is enormous.”