Much to reap from green farming

"THE average farmer does not wake up and think, how can I tackle climate change today," admitted Jonnie Hall, NFU Scotland head of rural policy, "He thinks of prices and weather and everyday issues."

However, Hall and all those attending the launch of a scheme aimed at tackling the problems raised by climate change yesterday agreed that it was now time to change the thinking.

Speaking at a Scottish Agricultural College farm on the south side of Edinburgh, Hall said the best method of doing so would be to prove that there were economic benefits accruing to the farmer, he said. "We do not want to use a big stick of regulation to change people's minds."

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And that is why four farms in various parts of Scotland and with totally different enterprises are going to operate as pioneer "Focus" farms to show that being more efficient and more careful with inputs will also help Scotland meet its ambitious targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. One of the farmers chosen for the project, David Houstoun from Glenkilrie, Blairgowrie, admitted that when he was first approached about the scheme the title put him off. But he was now enthusiastic to see how changes can be brought about to help his hill-farming unit reduce his carbon footprint.

"We buy in fuel and animal feedstuffs for our 1,050 ewes and also for our commercial cattle herd. That puts us on the wrong side of the equation. We will look at how we could possibly generate renewable energy but we farm on a site of special scientific interest and our options are reduced in that direction."

Organic dairy farmers, Lee and Ross Paton, from Castle Douglas, said their participation was down to wanting to be ahead of the game and they believed they would receive lots of advice from the SAC advisers who are working alongside the farmers.

Arable farmer Jim Reid from St Cyrus, south of Aberdeen, may have a more difficult road in the scheme as potato growing is quite intensive and has some hefty inputs. However, he was optimistic that there were lots of efficiencies to come, especially from the storage and handling side of his 500-plus acres of seed. He was already involved in cutting down his carbon emissions having just planted 90,000 hardwood trees on 55 acres of land that previously carried livestock.

Cabinet secretary Richard Lochhead described the three-year project costing one third of a million pounds as helping to tackle "the biggest challenge facing today's society." "If we do not change then the consequences will impact on farming as much as anyone."

He reminded those at the launch that farming was reckoned to contribute about one fifth of all the greenhouse gases generated in Scotland.

SAC chief executive Bill McKelvey said there had been a "surprising" number of farmers who had expressed an interest in the project. He was pleased the college was involved and pointed out that SAC had earlier in the week picked up a UK-wide "green" award.