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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, February 20, 2020

Meeting of the Parliament 20 February 2020

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Climate Change and Agriculture, Portfolio Question Time, Business Motion, Scottish Elections (Franchise and Representation) Bill: Stage 3, Scottish Elections (Franchise and Representation) Bill, Terrorist Offenders (Restriction of Early Release) Bill, Business Motion, Decision Time


Contents


Climate Change and Agriculture

I ask members of the public who are leaving the gallery to do so quietly, as the Parliament is still meeting.

The next item of business is a member’s business debate on motion S5M-20548, in the name of Maurice Golden, on tackling climate change: the role of Scottish agriculture. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament welcomes the contribution of Scottish agriculture to protecting the environment and being part of the solution to tackling climate change; commends Scottish farmers, including those in the West of Scotland, for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 29.4% since 1990; recognises that Scottish farmers already work hard to preserve the landscape, improve biodiversity, plant and manage woodland, restore peatland, improve water and soil quality and generate renewable energy; acknowledges the view that there is a need to develop a suite of joined-up, practical and progressive policies that allow food producers to continue running their businesses in a more sustainable and efficient manner, and looks forward to the new Agricultural Modernisation Fund assisting industry in this transition.

12:49  

I thank members of the SNP, the Labour Party—a welcome addition—and the Liberal Democrats for supporting my motion. This Parliament has set ambitious targets for achieving net zero emissions by 2045. If we are to meet that target, there can be no doubt that we must have the support of Scottish agriculture.

Scottish farmers, crofters and other rural businesses are on the front line when it comes to the effects of climate change in Scotland. NFU Scotland is engaging with food producers and supporting action to produce better environmental outcomes. It understands that those outcomes underpin the long-term future of farming in Scotland. Our job, as policy makers, is to work with farmers and rural businesses to make that change happen, to provide them with support to remove obstacles from their path and to reduce the risks of transitioning to new ways of working.

However, it is important to recognise that agriculture already has one of the lowest emission levels of any sector—it contributes just 9 per cent of total United Kingdom emissions, and UK beef production is more carbon efficient than the global average. Overall, Scottish agricultural emissions are down almost 30 per cent from the 1990 baseline. Unfortunately, that is often overlooked because agriculture and land management measures are accounted for separately.

We must recognise that some emissions are inherent in food production. Even so, farmers are working hard to improve environmental outcomes. They manage important woodlands and peatlands, both of which are important carbon sinks, and they work with organisations such as the Scottish Environment Protection Agency on agri-environmental projects to improve water and soil quality, bolster flood prevention measures and protect our biodiversity.

All too often, farmers and land managers do not get the recognition that they deserve. Just last week, the director of the Soil Association Scotland wrote in The Scotsman to urge politicians

“to start valuing and rewarding farmers for the important services they provide.”

I could not agree more.

However, what farmers really need is action for the long-term sustainability of their businesses. That is how we will ensure that they continue to produce the environmental outcomes that we need. We must have a good food nation bill to provide the vision for future agricultural policy.

One obvious measure is the provision of direct support for farmers to use more environmentally friendly practices. The up-front costs of doing that can be prohibitive, so I proposed an agricultural modernisation fund and worked to have it included in the Climate Change (Emissions Reduction Targets) (Scotland) Bill. I am pleased that I got cross-party support for that amendment, which will ensure that proposals for a future fund are included in the next climate change plan.

Funding for modernisation and upgrades is needed now more than ever. Productivity has dropped for three years in a row, incomes are down by almost 10 per cent while farm debt is at its highest since 1972 and, at the end of last year, dozens of farmers across Scotland were still waiting for common agricultural policy payments from 2017.

Rural Scotland needs reliable support to prosper and become more sustainable, and the Scottish Conservatives are willing to work with the Scottish Government if it is serious about putting that support in place. For example, we can surely all agree on the benefits of giving farmers and rural communities more control over their recycling and waste management services. That could improve environmental outcomes, reduce farmers’ costs and boost rural economies. The Scottish Conservatives propose to do that through a new producers fund, which would provide equipment and infrastructure to set up on-site anaerobic digestion, microplastic recycling centres and waste hubs.

Farmers could benefit from on-site anaerobic digestion, because that would generate energy and heat, which, in turn, would reduce costs.

Microplastic recycling centres would provide more convenient access to recycling services for rural and island communities, with shorter transport distances and better environmental outcomes. Collection services should be tailored to local conditions in order to simplify logistics and make dumping waste less attractive. Local economies would be boosted, too, through job creation and the creation of localised circular economies, with low-value feedstock being transformed into higher-value products.

Waste hubs would work in tandem with the microrecycling centres to further reduce logistical and cost burdens by acting as a single access point for waste streams. They would also provide a much-needed alternative and capacity for farmers who can no longer burn plastic waste.

We all have a job to do in educating the public about the vital role that Scottish farmers play. That is why the Scottish Conservatives are proposing the creation of school farms that would allow children from local schools to come together and learn about food production, healthy eating and rural life.

I thank Maurice Golden very much for taking an intervention, and I congratulate him on securing the debate. I apologise for not being able to stay to the end of the debate, which is due to a meeting of the Justice Sub-Committee on Policing.

The range of measures that Maurice Golden has set out goes to the point that the NFUS has made about the importance of having a suite of measures to reflect the different types of agriculture across the country. As well as ensuring that that suite of measures is available, does he agree that any future trade agreement will need to ensure that food imports into the UK at least meet the standards that we require of our farmers in this country?

Yes, I agree that the best-quality food that is produced in the UK is produced here, in Scotland, and that any standard for the whole UK should reflect that.

The member hails from Orkney, which is a fantastic example of a place that deserves further support such as the motion outlines. I declare an interest in that Zero Waste Scotland commissioned an excellent report by me, when I worked for that organisation, on the benefits of the bio-economy in Orkney and some really useful ways in which we could use the waste and by-products from the whisky sector and dairy production in Orkney, ensuring that we do not transport lots of waste across Scotland, the UK and more widely. I urge all members to have a look at that report.

The motion speaks of the need for “joined-up, practical ... policies”, which is what I have outlined in my speech. The measures are clear in their intent and would support farmers to deliver improved environmental outcomes right now.

12:57  

I thank my colleague Maurice Golden for bringing this very important and timeous members’ business debate to the chamber.

The motion is absolutely correct to welcome

“the contribution of Scottish agriculture to protecting the environment and being part of the solution to tackling climate change”.

We are at a critical time in fighting climate change. The independent UK Committee on Climate Change has noted that Scottish policies that are adopted over the next 12 months are likely to determine the policy direction of the next 25 years. The policies that affect our agriculture sector will be particularly important for any mitigation of, or reduction in, emissions to help us reach our very ambitious targets. In 2017-18, it was estimated that Scottish farmers lost around £161 million because of extreme weather that resulted in lower crop yields and livestock losses. The Scottish agricultural sector is therefore on the front line of the impacts that climate change is already bringing and will bring.

However, it is true to say that we can use our land to combat the effects of our current climate emergency. Improving sustainable farming methods will be integral in reaching our goal of net zero emissions. WWF has highlighted a number of policies that we can adopt in order to reduce our emissions. Reducing nitrogen fertiliser use, improving animal heath, promoting organic farming and investing in agroforestry could reduce Scottish agricultural greenhouse gas emissions by up to 38 per cent by 2045.

To achieve that, we must assess the way in which we advise, train and offer incentives to our farmers. We must set clear emission reduction targets and improve the quality of monitoring and reporting on our emission levels. As Maurice Golden mentioned, the introduction of the good food nation bill can deliver the legislative impetus that we desperately need. In the most recent meeting of the cross-party group in the Scottish Parliament on food, which I co-convene with my colleagues Mark Ruskell and Colin Smyth, I stressed that we should not demonise our food industry in our quest to combat climate change, because farming is critical for our economy and supports thousands of jobs in our rural areas.

In order to seamlessly enact the policies that are needed to halt the emergency, we should look to educate the general public about how food is produced. I was interested to hear Maurice Golden’s suggestions on how some of that education could happen. At the cross-party group, it was noted that conveying nuanced messages about food production has been difficult and that there is a lot of misinformation in the public sphere, certainly with regard to meat versus vegetarian or vegan diets, which we are currently hearing about. Increasing investment in home economics in schools is one of the suggested ways to realise that goal.

We can educate and create policy, but we also need to encourage action at the grass-roots level. The Scottish Wildlife Trust has stated that farmers and crofters need greater recognition, rewards and incentives for taking positive steps in mitigating emissions. The Scottish Government has taken steps towards that with the agricultural modernisation fund, which Maurice Golden mentioned in the motion. That was a great amendment to the Climate Change (Emissions Reduction Targets) (Scotland) Act 2019. The fund will aid investment in agricultural mitigation measures.

Another investment, which was announced just yesterday, is in the continuation of the agri-environment climate scheme. Another £34 million in funding will go towards promoting environmentally friendly land management practices. However, I have received feedback from a local crofter about the possibility of making the application process easier. I wonder whether the minister can reference that in her closing remarks.

We are in the midst of a climate emergency, and our agricultural sector will be critical in our fight against it. We must encourage the development of meaningful policy and ensure that we take swift steps to enact it.

13:01  

I am delighted to have the opportunity to highlight the role that farmers are playing in tackling climate change. I refer members to my entry in the register of members’ interests—I am a member of the NFU.

I welcome to the public gallery a couple of farmers from Galloway and West Dumfries, which is Scotland’s most beautiful constituency.

I am proud to be the Conservative Party’s representative on the recently established climate change working group. Agriculture is not its sole focus, but one of my priorities is to highlight the role that farming can play and ensure that the contribution and efforts of the agriculture sector are fairly represented and accredited.

Agriculture is responsible for emissions associated with food production. However, while farmers undertake that food production, they are more often than not directly or indirectly responsible for sequestration through tree planting, soil management, peatland restoration and biodiversity protection. All those things are viewed as being very positive for the climate. As Maurice Golden said, the activities of farmers in relation to carbon sequestration or renewable energy production are often recorded in other sectors’ inventory figures.

I was delighted that Maurice Golden lodged an amendment to create an agricultural modernisation fund. That is now part of the 2019 act, and it ensures that funding for modernisation and upgrade support for farmers will be part of the imminent climate change plan. Farmers must be given support and tools to fully benefit from what they are already doing to achieve highly ambitious emission reduction targets.

I have been dismayed and angered over the past year or so by the agenda that has been targeted against the agricultural industry and our livestock producers in particular. Unfortunately, aided and abated by sections of the media, the positive message about how our farming industry is tackling climate change right now—today—has been drowned out by ill-informed activists who are too lazy and blinkered by their misplaced ideology to look at rural and agricultural practices as a whole. How many of them have taken the time to do the research and find out that the agricultural industry reduced emissions by an incredible 29 per cent between 1990 and 2017?

Do not even get me started on the blatant promotion of veganism and Veganuary in the mainstream media. Where is the balanced argument? Where is the media scrutiny of the impact of importing soya or other out-of-season vegetables? Do the protesters acknowledge that agriculture is responsible for only 9 per cent of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions?

Finlay Carson mentioned soya. Is soya used as a livestock feed in Scotland?

I will develop that argument as I go on. However, the fact that we eat vegetables that are imported from all over the world has a negative impact on our carbon footprint.

Where is the scrutiny of imported soya? As I said, agriculture is responsible for only 9 per cent of the total greenhouse gas emissions, and cattle and sheep are responsible for just 3 per cent.

That said, the industry accepts that it needs to do better, and Scottish farmers are already undertaking a range of practical measures to reduce emissions. Those measures include improving livestock health and efficiency, better soil management and sequestration, and more efficient use of fertilisers, slurry and manure. We need the policies that Maurice Golden outlined, but we must also ensure that future policies do not have the unintended consequence of displacing production to other parts of the globe, with a far greater impact on the environment. The possible unintended consequences of carbon leakage and the exporting of emissions and production should be strongly analysed and considered.

We must show caution when it comes to promoting wholesale changes in the way that people eat. If we are to truly tackle emissions, we should be encouraging people to eat locally produced high-quality food. Caution should be exercised when advising behaviour change, particularly around diet. We should not advocate a route forward that would undermine the Scottish agriculture industry. Requiring reductions in emissions from farming and then promoting reduced consumption of local produce should not be countenanced.

We are repeatedly told that we are in a climate emergency and that rapid responses are needed. The fact is that the vast majority of meat eaters in this country are not going to stop eating beef. Given that Scotland is only 75 per cent self-sufficient in beef, maybe we should not ask people to eat less meat but ensure that the meat that they eat is Scotch beef and lamb that is locally produced, particularly given that the greenhouse gas intensity of UK-produced beef in terms of carbon dioxide production is less than half the global average.

The industry must do more, but we recognise that the number of Scottish farmers and crofters who carry out carbon audits has increased significantly over the years. More than 1,000 farms have participated in the beef efficiency scheme, with carbon audits being carried out on every participating farm over the past year.

This debate is a reminder that there is lots to celebrate in what our farming industry has done and is doing in relation to tackling climate change. There is no room for complacency but, going forward, the debate must be balanced and healthy rather than overblown, ill-informed and demonising.

13:06  

I thank Maurice Golden for bringing this very important topic to the chamber for debate. We must all confront the climate and environment emergencies, and the agriculture sector has a strong role to play in that.

Farmers, crofters and land managers have been among the first to need to adapt to climate change and they face extreme weather day in, day out, but they also form a huge part of the efforts to mitigate any further damage. That responsibility can lie heavily on them, particularly as such a high proportion of private sector employment in rural areas is in small and medium-sized enterprises, both in South Scotland and more widely across rural Scotland. That is why I lodged an amendment to the motion—I am pleased that Maurice Golden recognised its relevance—specifying the need for a

“wider Just Transition to sustainable land use by Scottish farmers”.

My amendment has been supported by some members who are in the chamber and by others.

I thank the organisations that sent us briefings for the debate. Such briefings are always invaluable and they inform us all.

The Scottish Government needs to review the policy and support framework for reductions in agricultural emissions, and with haste. It must not let slip the opportunities that are afforded by the Agriculture (Retained EU Law and Data) (Scotland) Bill and the update to the climate change plan. WWF’s recent report “Delivering on Net Zero: Scottish Agriculture”, which other speakers have mentioned, shows that a sustainable net zero pathway is very possible. It highlights that important mitigation measures can be taken at a farm level with little or no land use change and that greater changes that will deliver more significant carbon savings are feasible. Many of those use established technologies such as organic production, agroforestry and conservation agriculture.

Research is developing all the time on sustainable food production, soil management, nature-based solutions and support for our fragile ecosystems and wildlife species, and many of those things can also bring savings for farmers if they are done in the right way.

By way of example, I will focus briefly on agroforestry and its multiple benefits. Just this January, the Woodland Trust and the Organic Research Centre published their findings on native species and particularly how the willow tree can optimise the production of lambs due to its high mineral and protein content. Last summer, I visited Whitmuir Organics, the farm and shop of Pete Richie and Heather Anderson, who have led the way on so much innovation over the years. I saw the agroforestry plantings that have benefited animals through browsing opportunities, while giving shade in summer and shelter in winter. There are also coppicing opportunities.

In the right circumstances, agroforestry offers a chance to open up new markets, transform a high-risk monoculture into a mixed system, and profit the farmer. For the public good, such innovations reward our biodiversity, minimise flood risk, keep quality Scottish produce on the table, and mitigate climate change through riparian planting and carbon sequestration.

We in Scottish Labour take very seriously the need to step toward a range of changes, of which agroforestry is just one example. The UK Committee on Climate Change says that, for decades, incentives for agricultural land use have not had the fundamental change that they need. The update must be far more robust than the present climate change plan, because those system-level changes cannot be tacked on—they must be at the core of the development of our new subsidy regime, supporting farmers in the just transition. Maurice Golden has highlighted the new agricultural modernisation fund, which is the result of his amendment to the Climate Change (Emissions Reduction Targets) (Scotland) Bill, and which was supported on a cross-party basis; it will give significant support.

Many farmers are already shifting towards net zero, and should be recognised for the work that they do, as both Maurice Golden and Finlay Carson have highlighted. John Scott also highlighted that in the ECCLR Committee. Planting for public good, renewable energy, peatland restoration work and much more need to be recognised.

We cannot look only at schemes and financial supports; we also need to see strategic approaches to giving farmers the right skills, the latest knowledge, and the tools to share and transfer those ideas in a co-operative way. That is at the core of the success of an agricultural just transition.

13:11  

I welcome the debate, introduced by Maurice Golden. It does feels as though it could have been a John Scott debate; we miss John and wish him all the very best.

There has been a significant political shift in recent years, recognising that agriculture is part of the problem but also holds the solution to achieving our net zero target in Scotland. It is good to take time to recognise the many exciting and passionate farmers across Scotland who are paving the way for climate friendly farming. I have had the pleasure of visiting many of those businesses across Scotland, from Lynbreck Croft in the Cairngorms to Mossgiel in Ayrshire—places where farmers are tapping into generations of knowledge and skill to develop resilient, diverse and low-carbon farming models.

However, the motion and debate run the risk of looking at only one side of the industry. We need to be cautious of adopting a congratulatory tone while ignoring the urgent changes that still need to be made in mainstream agriculture.

The figure quoted in the motion, of a 29 per cent reduction in agricultural emissions since 1990, paints a much rosier picture than the reality. Over the last decade, emissions reductions have stagnated, with only a 2 per cent fall since 2008. Agriculture still accounts for over a quarter of Scotland’s greenhouse gas emissions. It is clear that we will not achieve our net zero target if we do not significantly speed up the rate of change.

There is work still to be done to ensure that all stakeholders in agriculture are on board. Just a couple of weeks ago, the NFUS president Andrew McCornick told the union’s annual conference:

“We’re being told”

that climate change is

“coming, but we can’t reach out and feel or touch it, so there have to be questions—is this real or are we just being told that?”

He then went on to suggest that planting trees is accelerating global warming.

As politicians, we need to ensure that we are both working with the industry and listening to the science. The Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Tourism commented last year that he’ll “take no lessons” from our own scientific advisers, the UK Committee on Climate Change.

Will the member take an intervention?

In a second.

That has set a worrying precedent. It is time for us all to face up to the huge job ahead and show some leadership.

If I can get the time back, I will let Mr Carson in.

That was asked so nicely; you will get the time back.

Thank you so much.

I wonder whether Mark Ruskell, in his statement about agriculture’s contribution to Scotland’s greenhouse gases, is falling into the trap, as so many do, of not considering the whole agricultural industry in the round, including its contribution to carbon sequestration in methods of farming, forestry and renewable energy. Are you falling into the trap of just quoting, and misrepresenting agriculture’s contribution to reducing greenhouse gases?

Please do not use the term “you” of another member. I am the only “you” sitting here. That is spelled Y-O-U, by the way.

Mr Carson raises a very important point that we have discussed in committee. However, we have to recognise that the emissions from forestry and renewable energy production are counted elsewhere. The important thing, moving forward, is to ensure that we have a whole-farm approach to reducing emissions. That will still result in significant change, which we need.

The UKCCC’s report, “Land use: Policies for a Net Zero UK”, published last month, recommended a package of measures to help us to achieve net zero emissions from land use. That included increasing UK-wide forestry cover to at least 17 per cent through both afforestation and agroforestry, mentioned by Claudia Beamish, but also—Mr Carson will not like this—reducing meat and dairy consumption by at least 20 per cent along with similar reductions in food waste.

We must not be afraid of talking about changes in land use and diets. Denying the need for those will leave agriculture in a weaker position to respond and adapt. The 20 per cent reduction in meat and dairy consumption recommended by the CCC is modest compared with UK Government nutritional guidance as to what we should be eating and it is, to be honest, already being reflected in increasing consumer demand for meat-free and plant-based options.

The long awaited delivery of land use partnerships will be vital to meeting our net zero goals, but they need to have ambition and regulatory teeth. Farmers need to play an active role in that, but we also need to accept that, in some places, it will result in land use change. It is right to celebrate and champion the good examples of climate friendly, low carbon agriculture that already exist in Scotland, and I welcome the debate, but the reality is that much work still needs to be done to mainstream those models across the industry. The decisions that we make in the coming years on future agricultural policy and subsidies will be the lynchpin in determining whether we successfully deliver on that or not.

13:17  

I congratulate Maurice Golden on bringing the debate to the chamber and allowing us the opportunity to discuss the enormous contribution that our farmers, crofters and producers make in Scotland. Farmers and producers are the custodians of our land, they produce the food for our nation and they actively play their part in reducing emissions. From the outset, I note how important it is that we all—MSPs, the media and wider society—ensure that our farmers are valued, supported and recognised. We must ensure that our farmers and producers are not vilified. Over the past three decades, farmers have contributed to an almost 30 per cent reduction in emissions in Scotland.

Scottish farmers already work hard to preserve the landscape, improve biodiversity, plant new trees and hedges, manage woodland and restore peatland. I visited a peatland restoration project on a farmer’s land at Moss of Cree near Newton Stewart, where Dr Emily Taylor from the Crichton Carbon Centre and I measured the peat depth at 6 metres. That is really deep. Farmers also improve the water and soil quality and generate renewable energy. With the advent of new technologies, and support from the Scottish Government, the third sector and educational institutions such as Scotland’s Rural College, that list is always growing.

It is worth noting that agriculture contributes a fraction of UK greenhouse gas emissions. It is responsible for only 9 per cent of total greenhouse gas emissions, and cattle and sheep—the majority of the livestock production across Dumfries and Galloway and, indeed, Scotland—are responsible for just 3 per cent of total greenhouse gas emissions. Also, Scottish farmers and crofters play an important role in generating renewable energy. The largest proportion of operational community and locally owned capacity in Scotland is located on farms and estates. Farmers and crofters play their part and we need to promote that. Again, Scottish farmers are not climate change villains and, as Gail Ross and Finlay Carson said, we should not demonise them.

Around 73 per cent of Scotland’s land area is designated as agricultural. Scottish farmers play a vital role in preserving our rural landscapes and improving biodiversity, including through managing and planting woodland. Since 2014, 19,875 hectares of woodland have been created under the Scottish rural development programme’s forestry grant scheme. About 30 per cent of that is in Dumfries and Galloway alone.

I mentioned the planting of hedges. I would be interested to hear the minister explain how hedges are considered in the context of carbon sequestration, because we always talk about forests, trees and woodland, but the planting of hedges also contributes to carbon sequestration.

The agricultural modernisation fund, the Scottish Government’s commitment to which in the programme for government has been reaffirmed through funding commitments in the upcoming budget, will allow Scottish farmers, crofters and land managers to make plans to invest in a low-emissions future and will assist them in making the transition to such a future.

Last week, I attended the NFUS conference in Glasgow. I was really interested to hear how climate change was presented as an opportunity rather than a barrier. We need to look at all the comments that have been made in context. Many people highlighted action that they are already taking to reduce emissions. Nigel Miller and Mike Robinson of the farming for 1.5 degrees group gave a talk that was all about cutting greenhouse gas emissions. That work is being carried out with Andrew Barbour from the SRUC’s Barony campus in Dumfries and Galloway.

I know that we are short of time, so I want to put on record my thanks to Scottish farmers, crofters and producers who, as has been demonstrated, are playing an active part in tackling climate change and reducing emissions.

I am letting members go over their time a little because they are very interested in the topic and have a lot to say about it. We have some time in hand.

13:21  

I thank my colleague Maurice Golden for securing the debate. I want to speak against the growing narrative that Scottish farming—especially its meat and dairy production—is somehow overcontributing to climate change. I want to support our farmers, whom we charge with producing food of the highest quality to the highest standards. We also charge them with custodianship of the countryside and demand that they pay the living wage. However, when it comes to public procurement, far too little home-grown produce makes it on to tables in the public sector.

It is completely misleading to suggest that the practices of Scottish farmers should be lumped in with farming practices in other parts of the world. Our livestock is predominantly grass fed, unlike in the Americas, where the livestock is force fed. Similar practices are used in the far east. If we want to take positive action on climate change—as, I am sure, we all do—surely we need to stop the practice of importing food that is readily available in this country, and thereby negate the need for our farmers to export. Less than 20 per cent of the Scotland Excel contract goes to local producers, but East Ayrshire Council manages to procure more than 70 per cent of its food locally. That shows that it can be done.

We need to develop Scotland’s food processing capability. It seems to me to be ridiculous that we produce high-quality food that we send away for processing. Shellfish that are caught off the west coast of Scotland are sent to the far east to be packaged, and are then brought back again. From a carbon-footprint perspective, that is ridiculous.

One of the main considerations that is being lost in the deluge of misinformation, from an overexposed section of society, is health. I am very supportive of everybody having choice when it comes to their lifestyle; people should be able to choose a healthy vegetarian diet or a healthy vegan diet, but elements of society should not be allowed to decry our farmers and the food that they produce.

Does Mr Whittle, as a former athlete, agree with UK nutritional advice, which recommends that we eat a bit less meat and dairy produce?

I thank Mark Ruskell for that intervention, because he makes a very good point. I advocate a balanced diet. Mr Ruskell is absolutely correct to suggest that there are elements of society that eat far too much red meat. However, the flipside of that is that there is a section of society that says that we should not eat any meat at all, which is completely wrong.

I am supportive of choice in lifestyle. My concern is that it is difficult to maintain a good healthy balanced vegan or, sometimes, vegetarian diet for children. Animal protein is a very good source of many essential elements of a healthy diet that are otherwise difficult to replicate in what children eat. We should point out that the choice of such a diet is often not that of the child but of the parent. If a balanced diet is not maintained in the early years, that will have an impact in later life.

I heard a ridiculous story from one of my constituents about a local nursery that is refusing to give free milk to the children because, according to the person who runs the nursery, farming is destroying the planet. We have to get away from that kind of narrative.

I want to point out that if we are serious about tackling climate change in the way that we should be, we need to continue to support our farmers as they make the environmental changes that we want them to make. We need to be cognisant of foodstuffs that are imported as so-called replacements for local produce, and we need to recognise that production and transport of such foodstuffs have a carbon footprint.

We need to stop vilifying our farmers. We need to support them using public food procurement, and in their actions to tackle climate change, and we need to stop the need for us to import so much of our food. Our farmers have the capacity to feed our country healthily. It is time that we helped them.

So, I am off to have a good old Scotch-beef burger for my lunch.

13:26  

I thank Maurice Golden for lodging his motion and for securing today’s debate, which gives us the opportunity to recognise that, if we are to meet the net zero emissions target, agriculture is part of the solution. The sector gets that and there is growing consensus on the necessary direction of travel.

As the motion rightly notes, farmers and crofters have already delivered their 29.4 per cent drop in emissions since 1990. As Maurice Golden highlighted, because of the way that the figures are calculated, they exclude a portion of the carbon reductions that farmers and crofters have made.

However, the climate crisis that we face is stark and it is now. Gail Ross rightly described this as a “critical” time. We need to build on the progress that has been made in order to deliver greater reductions in emissions in the sector, and we need to develop the greener and more sustainable and productive agriculture system that we all want.

That will require political leadership and direction. I have a lot of faith in the agriculture sector in Scotland and its ability to adapt to change to meet challenges, but the Government needs to provide direction and detail. We know that our current agriculture support system does not do enough to facilitate change, and is, at times, a barrier to that change.

As we exit the common agricultural policy, we need to develop a new support system that will deliver our environmental, economic and social aims. A system that supports and incentivises sustainability and environmentally friendly practices will build a more productive and resilient industry. Those two aims should not be thought of as competing with each other, and neither is to be achieved at the expense of the other.

The most effective way to continue to reduce emissions is to support a strong and sustainable agriculture sector that balances climate change commitments with the need for food security. If we do not deliver sustainability, that will mean an increase in imports, which means an increase in emissions.

Any change must be underpinned by the principle that was set out by my colleague Claudia Beamish in her addition to Maurice Golden’s motion, which says that there should be a just transition for Scottish farmers, crofters and farm workers.

Stakeholders across the board have been working hard on proposals for a system that reflects those priorities, for example, NFUS’s “Steps to Change: A New Agricultural Policy for Scotland” and “#Route2050—A direction of travel for Scottish land management to 2050” by Scottish Land & Estates recognise the need for meaningful reform to promote sustainability and better support the sector as it works to reduce emissions.

Environmental organisations have been doing fantastic work—in particular, there is WWF’s report “Delivering on Net Zero”, which was mentioned by my colleague Claudia Beamish. It includes a number of detailed evidence-based proposals on how to reduce emissions. Its analysis suggests that those measures could lead to a 38 per cent reduction in agricultural greenhouse emissions by 2045.

However, we need from the Scottish Government leadership, direction and detail, showing exactly what it intends to do in the months and years ahead. The creation of the agricultural transformation fund is a welcome first step, and I commend the cross-party work to get the fund included in the recent Climate Change (Emissions Reduction Targets) (Scotland) Act 2019. However, the fund does not compensate for an overall funding system that is no longer fit for purpose and has to change.

The Government has set out a post-European Union transition period until 2024. The Agriculture (Retained EU Law and Data) (Scotland) Bill that is currently making its way through Parliament is an opportunity to make it clear that it will not be simply business as usual during that transition period.

The clock is ticking—in fact, time is running out when it comes to climate change. I hope that that bill will be strengthened by the Government, including by adding to it a purpose section that puts the environment at the heart of the improvements that the bill will lead to, including the proposed pilot scheme. I also hope that the Government will use the parliamentary debates on the bill to settle on a clear timetable for the Government’s outline of a long-term agricultural policy for Scotland.

We need to use what short time we have to trial new schemes, to set out the changes that we need in the future, to support the sector to make those changes, and to ensure a just transition so that no one is left behind. By doing that, we can build on the progress that has already been delivered by Scottish agriculture.

13:30  

I add my sincere thanks to Maurice Golden for bringing this debate to the chamber and for the chance that it gives me, in closing, to set out all that the Scottish Government is doing to support farmers, crofters and land managers to farm sustainably and contribute to our climate change ambitions. Much has been raised in the chamber today, so I sincerely apologise if I miss out anything or if anyone feels that there is a point that I do not address. If that happens, follow up with me; I am happy to meet anyone to discuss what we are doing and the plans that we have for the future.

I could not agree more with Maurice Golden when he stated that our farmers and crofters do not get the recognition that they deserve. He raised a lot of important points that are worth re-emphasising and that we have heard echoed around the chamber today. It is important to remember that our agricultural sector has reduced its emissions by nearly 30 per cent from the 1990 baseline.

As I said, many important points have been raised. I am glad that Finlay Carson highlighted the media’s portrayal of our industry in Scotland and how it has conflated our system with production systems in other parts of the world. Brian Whittle emphasised that issue as well. It has been a massive bugbear for me and for the Scottish Government in general, because it is just not a fair representation of how we farm in Scotland. It unfairly and unjustly points the finger at agriculture as if it is solely to blame.

Emma Harper raised an important point on that, too: we all have a role in talking up the role that our farmers and crofters play, and in not vilifying them.

In answer to the intervention that I took from the Green Party, I should have said that, rather than suggest that we are eating far too much meat, we should be saying that we need to eat more fruit and vegetables. That also speaks to our farming community and would contribute much better to a balanced diet.

That is exactly what we want to promote—a healthy, balanced diet. That is what it is all about.

In every part of Scotland, farm businesses are making changes to their approach and that is cutting emissions. More than 3,000 farms have undertaken carbon audits and more than 1,400 farmers are participating in the beef efficiency scheme.

Through pillar 1 greening, which is worth just over £130 million in the coming year, around 18,000 businesses are undertaking practices that protect our permanent grassland and the historical carbon sink under it, as well as promote biodiversity.

There are farms that are shifting to hardier breeds that require less-intensive husbandry and can spend more time outside, and farms that are changing how and what they feed their cattle. There are farmers who already use precision farming methods to reduce fertiliser and pesticide use and improve productivity.

Does the minister agree that the Galloway beef breed is one that stays out all year round, which can contribute to a more efficient system?

Absolutely, and I would add that it is one of my favourite breeds. Ye cannae beat a beltie—unless, of course, it is an Aberdeen Angus, which represents my own area.

Our farmers and crofters are playing their part in Scotland’s contribution to addressing the global climate emergency. That has to continue. There are other initiatives that will, I hope, allow us to better recognise that fact. One initiative that has received press coverage recently is the carbon positive project, through which we have been working with and supporting the Scottish Agricultural Organisation Society to develop a tool that will help farmers to better recognise all the work that they do on the farm in relation to carbon sequestration.

I have always been clear that we cannot and must not look to address climate change through a single lens. That is especially relevant when it comes to agriculture. Our farmers and crofters are being asked to deliver on multiple priorities, such as biodiversity, air quality and water quality, as well as climate change. We must look to secure solutions that provide multiple benefits so that Scotland can address those areas while continuing to be a world-class producer of high-quality food.

I am not saying that it will be easy, because there will not be one easy solution, but to achieve a sustainable future we have to take a holistic and integrated approach in which all issues are taken into consideration. Although many farmers and crofters are already playing their part, we need everyone to do more. If Scotland is to achieve net zero emissions by 2045, the country and everybody in it, including our farmers and crofters, will be presented with challenges and opportunities.

The Scottish Government has a number of mechanisms in place to help farmers and crofters do more to reduce emissions and to farm sustainably, and a lot of work is under way on future policy that will address some of the points that Claudia Beamish and Colin Smyth raised today. The strategic approach that Claudia Beamish talked about is exactly what we need and other elements, such as land use strategies and other points that were raised today, need to feed into that.

Through our farm advisory service, we offer a range of advice, information and technical guidance on areas such as nutrient planning and management, livestock health and welfare, crop health, soil management and the benefits of woodlands on farms. The advisory service also offers our farmers and crofters access to free carbon audits and discounted integrated land management plans, with access to specialist one-on-one advice. Our farming for a better climate initiative provides a wealth of examples from our focus farmers, who have looked at their businesses and identified areas in which they can not only embrace low-carbon farming practices, but improve their businesses as a whole.

I heard on the radio today that the University of Edinburgh has discovered a letter from George Washington congratulating the Scottish farming sector and celebrating how skilled it was many years ago. Does the minister agree that there is potential for our innovative and entrepreneurial farming sector to export the knowledge that it gains in addressing climate change to the benefit of the whole world?

Absolutely. We must also ensure that the innovation that we see right now is spread right around the sector in Scotland. I will go on to talk about examples of such innovation.

We talked earlier about agroforestry and woodland creation and, in the past year, we exceeded our woodland creation target in Scotland. Building on that base, the Scottish Government has established the soil regenerative agriculture network and supported the highly regarded monitor farm network. I will visit one of the monitor farms on Thursday.

Mark Ruskell mentioned visiting some of our climate change champions and speaking to other people. I have visited all our agricultural champions: the work that Lynn and Sandra have been doing at Lynbreck croft was incredible to see and Bryce Cunningham has worked to eliminate single-use plastics at Mossgiel farm. I also visited the Budge sisters in Shetland. While in Shetland, I visited Uradale farm, which was a chance to meet its native breeds, then enjoy eating them in a local restaurant later on.

That relates to Finlay Carson’s point about the importance of local and seasonal produce and of not exporting problems elsewhere.

Brian Whittle made an important point about procurement. He spoke about East Ayrshire Council, in particular, which has been brilliant in relation to its food for life scheme. It has been incredible to see the impact that the scheme has had on the local economy and children’s health, and it is great that the council has been able to run the scheme within its budget. I would like such examples to be replicated around Scotland, because East Ayrshire Council has shown that it is possible.

As a Government, we are clear that we are here to encourage and support our farmers and crofters as Scotland makes this transition. This month alone, we have announced £40 million of new funding for the agricultural transformation programme, which members have talked about today. We have increased funding for woodland grants to nearly £57 million to meet our increased woodland creation target of 12,000 hectares for 2020-21. We have also announced a new suckler beef climate group to examine how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from Scotland’s suckler herd.

Gail Ross and Claudia Beamish talked about organic farming, which is a vital part of the conversation. The amount of land that is farmed organically has declined, but we are absolutely committed to tackling that and are currently working on an organic sector plan. We must drive that forward, so we are playing an active role in it.

In the first half of this year, the Scottish Government’s farming and food production future policy group is expected to report. The group was established after a parliamentary debate in January 2019, and it will make recommendations to ministers. Gail Ross talked about the simplification of some funds, which is part of the work that the group is considering. The Scottish Government will use the group’s report and the findings of other sector-specific working groups as the basis to support policy design, with the intention of implementation post 2024.

There is probably so much that I have not had the chance to talk about. However, I hope that I have been able to demonstrate the sheer volume of work that is under way, outlining exactly how we hope to deal with the challenges that we face, as well as better recognising the work that is already being done by our farmers and crofters.

13:40 Meeting suspended.  

14:00 On resuming—