A COALITION of environmental groups are calling for sweeping changes to the Scottish government’s decades-old agricultural funding system as it emerged the proportion of greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture has risen .
Official analysis seen by the Herald shows that despite efforts to tackle climate change in 2020, 18.5% of greenhouse gas emissions were attributed to agriculture, up from 15.69% in 2019.
It comes as Scottish Environment LINK (SEL) says funding for agriculture should be replaced with funding that ‘works for nature, climate and people’, saying the current system fails to protect and restoring Scottish nature and wildlife or tackling climate change.
While the Scottish Government spends more than half a billion pounds on farm finance each year, groups fear that only a small proportion is going to help farmers and smallholders achieve meaningful environmental results.
Their separate analysis shows that in 2019 the Scottish Government spent £457m on direct payments to farmers, but of this only 7% (£22m) was spent on agri-environment schemes , climate program and rural priorities where candidates present coherent projects to improve biodiversity.
In 2020, agriculture produced 7.4 metric tonnes of equivalent (MtCO2e) of CO2, just 0.1 MtCO2e less than in 2019 and 2018 – while action is taken to tackle climate change and meet the strict objectives of the Scottish Government.
Methane was the main gas emitted by farms at 4.1 MtCO2e followed by nitrous oxide (2.2).
Agriculture is also one of the top three sources of net climate emissions in Scotland behind inland transport (9.5) and businesses (7.8) and ahead of residential properties (6).
SEL, a coalition of more than 40 environmental groups including RSPB Scotland, WWF, Scottish Wildlife Trust, Friends of the Earth Scotland and the Marine Conservation Society, says there must now be a new system of agricultural finance where at least three-quarters of spending directly supports methods that restore nature and fight climate change.
“We need a new agricultural finance system that helps farmers and small farmers reduce the use of chemicals and pesticides, adopt low-carbon farming methods, make room for nature by creating wildflower-rich forests, hedgerows and meadows – and much more,” the coalition said.
They say direct payments to farmers are an “ill-conceived” form of income support and do not help tackle climate change and “provide little value for public money”.
And while farmers are vital to Scotland’s future, managing three-quarters of Scotland’s land, say current methods are a ‘major source of greenhouse gas emissions and loss of wildlife “while the funding does not help them fight climate change.
“Government needs to reallocate the budget so that more funds are dedicated to supporting the transformation of the industry. We urgently need to shift to nature-friendly agriculture to create resilient agricultural businesses that produce healthy food while in dealing with the natural and climate emergency and government funding is critical,” the coalition said.
But they also say the funding system is stacked against small farmers and smallholders who are more beneficial to the environment.
Although support payments are important in Scottish farming, as an estimated 37% of farms make a profit without them, the coalition has expressed concern that the payments do not require proof of income or profitability, but are more related to land area.
They say it is possible for those who make profits to claim in the same way as those who make losses.
Their analysis warns that the system is designed in such a way that the largest businesses with the largest square footage receive the most support, not those most in need of income support.
Their analysis of Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs payment data for 2021 shows that there were 19,263 applicants for agricultural and rural development financial support, and of this total, 17,725 asked for ‘direct agricultural support’.
The top 20% of applicants (3,545) receive 62% of the budget. At the other end of the scale, the bottom 40% of applicants only receive 5% of the budget.
SEL says their analysis shows that the majority of funding is not going to support agricultural systems that are most valuable to nature.
“The current agricultural payment system has a long history that has focused primarily on supporting our food production capacity,” SEL said.
“Most of the aid ended up being targeted to the most productive agricultural areas, where profitable farming is more likely,” the coalition said.
“Meanwhile, large areas of Scotland – where it is more difficult to live off farming – are receiving little financial support.
“Scotland has large High Nature Value (HNV) agricultural areas where farming is in harmony with nature and where the balance between food production and the environment is most closely achieved. Farming systems and micro-farming in HNV are beneficial for wildlife as they require low input types of agriculture production.
Increasingly, attention is turning to the wide range of ecosystem services that land can provide, not just food production. This requires a better designed agricultural payment scheme than what we currently have in order to incentivize and stimulate the provision of ecosystem services across the country.”
The coalition has organized a petition calling for the changes to be included in a new post-Brexit Farm Bill that will underpin Scottish farm policy for generations to come. A consultation on the bill is due to close on December 5.
In 2020, legislation was enacted to allow Scottish Ministers to ensure that EU Common Agricultural Policy payments and programs would continue for a period of stability and simplicity after leaving the EU.
According to the Scottish Government’s consultation on the new bill, it aims to provide Scotland with a framework to support and work with farmers and crofters to meet ‘more of our food needs in a sustainable way and grow and grow with nature” and aims to change the way farmers are paid.
He adds: “To ensure that Scots can live and work sustainably on our lands, this framework will provide high quality food production, climate mitigation and adaptation, nature protection and restoration and a broader rural development.”
Two weeks ago a group of crofters and small farmers gathered outside Holyrood to demand more support for the bill.
Organized by the Landworkers’ Alliance and supported by a number of other groups, concerned farmers set up stalls outside the Scottish Parliament to discuss policy issues with MSPs.
The Land Workers Alliance says that because payments to farmers would be made on the basis of hectares of farmland, the government’s agricultural program “essentially uses public money to reward people who own large amounts of land”.
The group also says the scheme ‘offers little or no support’ for small-scale farming, pointing out that the land threshold to qualify for the payment scheme is three hectares, which is higher than the requirement for one hectare under the EU scheme.
They said: “We urgently need a payment system that is not based on the amount of land farmers have access to, and that properly values and rewards small farmers and smallholders for the essential role they play. ‘they play in the transition to climate-friendly agriculture and the development of a local and sustainable food system in Scotland.’
NFU Scotland policy director Jonnie Hall said: “Last week’s #FoodNeedsAFarmer rally outside the Scottish Parliament, attended by hundreds of Scottish farmers and crofters, highlighted the need for future policy to have food production at its heart. This is a point recognized by many of the 40 MSPs who attended our rally and asked questions during this week’s statement on future agricultural policy by Cabinet Secretary Mairi Gougeon.
“We welcome the Cabinet Secretary’s recognition that helping farmers and smallholder farmers across the country sustainably produce healthy, local food will also provide solutions to tackle climate change and improve nature.
“Scottish agriculture is facing extreme challenges and the whole industry is looking for certainty and confidence. In our view, the proposals offer little to suggest that agricultural activity and production will be promoted in a way that will continue to support the rural economy, rural communities and the food and beverages, while playing a vital role in solving climate and biodiversity issues. .
“What is missing is what farmers and smallholder farmers will need to do in the future if they are to unlock all the support that may be available. Agriculture and farming are long-term activities. term and preparation for 2025 must start now.”