A shift to organic farming and the use of novel feeds such as seaweed could help Scotland’s farming sector significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions over the next 25 years.
A new report by the Organic Policy, Business and Research Consultancy, commissioned by WWF Scotland, concluded that the country’s agricultural sector could easily achieve the 35% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions necessary for the country to become net zero by 2045.
The report highlighted a number of mitigation measures which could be made with little or no land use change. These include a reduction in the application of nitrogen fertiliser and greater use of feed additives such as probiotics and seaweed derivatives to reduce methane emissions associated with cattle and sheep.
In May 2019, the UK Committee on Climate Change recommended that Scotland could reach net zero emissions by 2045. In response, the Scottish Government declared a climate emergency and committed to a net zero emissions target for 2045.
Other measures farmers could take to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions include the use of legumes in grassland to eliminate or substantially reduce the need for nitrogen fertiliser; and improved animal health and breeding.
The report found that a 40% uptake of organic farming could potentially deliver 27% of the reduction target, while agroforestry also offers potential for substantial reductions.
It noted that despite their emission reduction potential, organic farming and agroforestry both have the disadvantages of higher initial investment costs and greater complexity which could act as a disincentive to adoption.
Researchers found that adoption of the package of measures would likely result in increased costs and reduced incomes for farmers which would need to be addressed by policy support in some form; they noted, however, that environmental benefits such as improvements in water and air quality could provide justification for government support.
“We need to produce food in a way that reduces emissions and locks up more carbon,” said Dr Sheila George, food and environment policy manager at WWF Scotland. “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.”