A major new report could well form the basis of suckler cow management and support schemes for many years to come.
The Suckler Beef Climate Change group led by former NFU Scotland president Jim Walker has produced a highly detailed 112 page document which recommends the creation of a scheme capable of encouraging a thriving beef sector which produces fewer harmful emissions.
The two aims might seem to counter each other but utilising a huge range of data the report, which was commissioned by Rural Affairs Minister Fergus Ewing, shows that not to be the case.
By adopting a range of on-farm measures Mr Walker and his colleagues suggest that emissions from the sucker herd can be reduced by up to 38 per cent.
They then go onto suggest a Suckler Beef Climate Scheme (SBCS) which could be implemented by the Scottish Government as part of future farm support.
If the group has its way the SBCS will driven by achieving outcomes and the measures, which will include capital grants, will be capable of being tailored to individual farms and their different circumstances.
Some will encourage technical innovations to cut emissions from the cattle by, for example, covering slurry stores. Others will be designed to enhance carbon storage in soils.
Mr Walker said: “Suckler cows offer an irreplaceable way of turning grazing land into an internationally renowned and high-quality source of protein.
“It is a fact that domestic food production will inevitably contribute towards a nation’s total emissions, and Scotland is no different in that regard to any other country on the planet. But shifting these emissions abroad, simply by cutting domestic food production in order to meet certain emissions’ reductions commitments does not resolve the issue itself, it merely exports the problem elsewhere.
“Scotland has a unique opportunity to show the world that modern food production can operate hand in hand with a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. The fight against global warming, the preservation of our precious biodiversity, and improving economic activity, employment and food security are so important, and we can’t afford to wait any longer talking about them. We need to act now.”
Mr Ewing said: “I am very grateful to Jim Walker and the wider group for this vital piece of work. We know that suckler beef farming is a key sector in Scotland’s rural economy and we are determined to support farmers in a sustainable manner whilst also working towards achieving our climate change ambitions.
“The Scottish Government will now work with Jim and other key stakeholders to consider in full the recommendations made in this report. I also wish to thank Scotland’s Rural College for their valuable input and expert advice.”
Andrew McCornick, NFU Scotland president, said: “The Suckler Beef Climate Change (SBCS) report has clearly recognised the necessity to marry climate change aspirations with viability of Scottish agricultural businesses.
“Emissions reductions, across all sectors of Scottish agriculture, can and should be viewed as an opportunity rather than being seen as an extra cost to the business.
“NFU Scotland welcomes the proposed structure of the SBCS, with its foundations of carbon audits, herd management, soil health and nutrient and grassland management, as well as support for management and capital to enhance business performance while reducing emissions.
“Crucially, the principles of the SBCS can provide transferable components to other sectors of Scottish agriculture, in the other reviews arable, uplands and dairy as promised by the Cabinet Sector last year.”
Preparing a carbon audit.
Being a member of a Quality Meat Scotland Assurance Scheme.
Analysing forage and soils.
Committing to regular professional development.
Cattle breeding and herd fertility.
Herd health, eg Johnes, BVD. IBR.
Soil health including correcting acidity.
Grassland including increasing legume content.
Nutrient management , for example precision application of manures.
Lime and seeds.
Covering slurry stores.
Precision farming and livestock equipment.