Climate and economic change: Lessons from Scotland

On a recent trip to Scotland, I had the opportunity to sit down with Lyn Matheson with the Soil Association to discuss their work on climate change and agriculture. The Soil Association has a diversity of technical, policy, certification and education programs to support and expand organic food and farming in Great Britain.

Photo courtesy of the Soil Association.

Over a cup of tea and biscuits on a rainy July day in Edinburgh, Lyn described their project The Future Proofing of Scotland’s Agriculture.  Recognizing that climate change will have some its greatest impacts on Scotland’s farming sector, the Soil Association of Scotland launched a program of technical assistance for farmers — aimed not just at organic producers, but producers of all kinds — on how they can reduce their carbon footprint and improve their bottom-line. The program, now in its fourth year, aims to “prepare agricultural businesses for the impacts, opportunities and risks that both climate and economic change bring.”

Scotland’s agriculture is predominantly livestock-based, covering about 75 percent of the country’s land mass.  Small grain crops, including barley for whiskey production, make up the second largest commodity group in the country, followed by potato, canola and fruit and vegetable production.  The majority of farms are small and mid-sized family operations with the average farm income $60,000 in U.S. dollars.

Some of the questions facing Scotland’s farmers will be familiar to many U.S. producers: how best to improve nutrient management, enhance livestock and forage production, produce renewable energy and cut energy costs.  Through workshops and farm visits with tangible examples of successful projects, Lyn brings together farmers, agronomists and other technical experts.

The workshops consistently fill up with farmer participants, some with waiting lists.  The reason?  According to Lyn, the key is to provide information that can make a difference for farmers now – energy savings, lower fertilizer bills, etc. – while highlighting the long term benefits of making their farms more resilient in the face of a changing climate.

The Soil Association’s program is one piece of multiple-pronged strategy to address climate change and agriculture issues in Scotland. Click here for more details.

 

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