Farming is key to climate change solution

NFUS vice-president Charlie Adam.

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The coming decade is seen as make or break in finding effective answers to climate change. The subject is prominent at global, national and regional level.

At one extreme, the debate has been hijacked by single interest groups who see this as an opportunity to further their cause, with social and other media providing an easy platform from which to mislead an ill-informed but worried public.

At the other extreme, as reflected in the disappointing outcome of the recent UN COP 25 meeting in Madrid, major world powers have shown marked reluctance to commit to any serious effort to address the problem.

COP 26 in Glasgow this year presents a huge opportunity to showcase the positive environmental credentials of Scottish farming and our further efforts to improve, as well as a shop window for our produce at home and abroad.

There is, however, a need for much more commitment from the big players on the world stage. Measures which reduce or end responsible agricultural production in Scotland only for that activity to then take place elsewhere to a lower standard, deliver nothing for climate change mitigation and may harm us both economically and health-wise if produce from these countries finds its way onto our supermarket shelves.

This is out of line with Scotland’s Good Food Nation ambitions.

Equally, there is no point in planting trees on agricultural land to mitigate climate change if, as a result, we import more, lower standard, environmentally unfriendly food from abroad.

It is important to consider wider implications when deciding if an individual action will really benefit the planet and, while it is important to take a lead, others must play the game too or we become the ‘fall guy’. Global problems require global solutions.

The import of sub-standard food produced in a manner illegal in the UK must not be permitted in any post-Brexit trade deals. Failure to hold this line will undermine industry efforts to farm sustainably and responsibly and let down farmers and crofters who are bearing the costs of doing so.

If we really believe these things matter, we cannot compromise on food safety or environmental responsibility. NFUS will be lobbying hard on these matters starting this week in Westminster.

Farming practices in some parts of the world, such as shown in the recent BBC programme on global beef production, justify the view that agriculture is responsible for environmental damage but not in Scotland where we do things differently.

Such broadcasts infuriate us but, in this case, they demonstrate bad practice elsewhere and present us with an opportunity to promote our high welfare, locally produced and environmentally friendly produce as an alternative.

It is better that this promotion is done by us and others who know what they are talking about rather than by media subject to institutional and individual bias. Every one of us can play a part in this. Don’t just wait for someone else to do it.

While we already set a high standard, we can do more, and if done well this can not only deliver for the environment but also for our bottom line.

Freedom from one size-fits-all EU ‘greening’ measures such as the ‘Three Crop Rule’ will allow us to design options which better suit our unique farming structure and markets, appropriate for the individual farm and which deliver more for the environment at less, if any, economic cost to the industry.

We can also now set our own standard for clear easily understood food labelling so that people know exactly what they are buying.

It is essential we adequately fund and make full use of our world-renowned research institutions and experts, without unjustified constraints on investigating potentially useful technologies if we are to produce more from less, especially if previously used methods are now deemed unacceptable.

With the right political decisions and appropriate financial support, Scottish farmers and crofters are well placed to lead the world in productive and environmentally friendly farming methods to the benefit of the people, the planet and farming businesses.

NFUS is determined to fight tooth and nail to make that happen.