Agriculture’s Transition to Net Zero

Agriculture’s Transition to Net Zero

The Scottish Government has set an ambition to be net zero by 2045. Net zero means achieving a balance between the emissions produced and the emissions taken out of the atmosphere.

The agriculture sector contributes approximately 19% of Scotland’s total greenhouse gas emissions. These emissions are higher in nitrous oxide and methane than other sectors. However, the agriculture sector also occupies or manages 80% of Scotland’s land. Through management of that land, it is uniquely placed to sequester carbon from the atmosphere through activities including tree planting and peatland restoration.

The drivers towards net zero in the agriculture sector include changing:

  • Policy frameworks – international commitments, new legislation including the proposed Agriculture (Scotland) Bill and new regulation all seek to limit the rise in global temperatures, reverse biodiversity loss and encourage clean air and water management; and
  • Commercial demands – many supermarkets have set their own ambitious net zero targets which will require farmers who supply them to develop appropriate emissions reduction plans. Growing consumer demand for lower carbon farming produce underpins the supermarkets’ position.

Every occupier or manager of agricultural land will commence the journey to net zero from a different starting point and will need to create a bespoke plan to achieve emissions reduction. The starting point is to quantify their current carbon footprint using a carbon calculator and identify the options and costs of changes to commence their journey to net zero.

Through the Preparing for Sustainable Farming programme the Scottish Government has introduced funding to assist the agriculture sector to undertake carbon audits, soil sampling and analysis and animal health and welfare interventions.

There are a number of options for each occupier or manager of agricultural land to transition to net zero.  Some options relate to management techniques including:

  • Reducing nitrous oxide and methane emissions by adopting practices such as precision agriculture, improved crop genetics, improved livestock management and robotics.
  • Improving soil health by adopting practices that reduce soil compaction and maintaining soil cover through the establishment of cover crops and prevention of soil erosion.

Other options for each occupier or manager of agricultural land to transition to net zero may include a change of land use. We have significant experience of supporting land occupiers and managers with the legal aspects of such change which may include:

  • Increasing the use of renewable energy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuel. Wind turbines, solar panels, anaerobic digestion and use of biomass as fuel are commonplace in many agricultural businesses and the opportunity remains to progress adoption of renewable energy in the agriculture sector further.
  • Restoration of peatland is a growing activity in Scotland underpinned by the Peatland Code (a voluntary certification standard for UK peatland restoration) and Peatland ACTION (a national programme funded by the Scottish Government to restore peatlands across Scotland).
  • The planting of trees and establishment of hedgerows to sequester carbon. The Scottish Government has increased its yearly target from 12,000 to 18,000 hectares of woodland planting from 2025 to support its net zero ambition. The Woodland Carbon Code is a quality assurance standard for woodland creation projects across the UK.

The above options to transition to net zero are also complementary in reducing biodiversity loss across the rural landscape.

At Anderson Strathern we have a long history of supporting land occupiers and managers to adapt to changing management practices and regulation governing the Scottish countryside. We are also committed to helping our clients transition to sustainable and environmentally friendly business models.

Should you wish to discuss any of the above matters in greater detail please do not hesitate to contact John Mitchell, or your usual contact in our rural department.

A version of this article was originally published in LandBusiness.

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