Agroecology is new buzzword in Scottish farming

Scottish crop farms are ahead of their EU counterparts in adopting agroecological tillage, fertilisation, pest and weed management practices, but the country's livestock farms lag behind overall.

SRUC’s Dr Bethan Thompson
SRUC’s Dr Bethan Thompson

That was the message from a nation-wide survey published yesterday which looked at the approaches taken in different sectors on the uptake of nature-based farming practices which contribute to climate and biodiversity goals.

The SRUC’s Dr Bethan Thompson said that an agroecological farming approach - which aimed to optimise production while minimising external inputs - was needed if the country was to meet climate and biodiversity targets set by the Scottish Government.

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The survey compared Scottish adoption with a concurrent sample of EU farmers and consisted of 1,335 valid responses from farmers in Austria, Germany, Greece, England, France, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Poland, Romania, Scotland and Sweden, with 109 of respondents coming from Scotland, covering a range of farm types including arable, livestock, permanent crops and mixed crop and livestock farms.

It highlighted which practices Scottish farmers promoted within their farming systems and where there was scope to do more relative to their EU counterparts.

But Scottish livestock farmers only outperformed those in the EU in relation to stocking density criteria.

And although Scotland’s arable farmers fared better and generally performed in line with, or ahead of, their EU counterparts in the overall adoption of agroecological practices, areas for improvement remained include increasing plant diversity and rotation as well as cover cropping – both areas which had climatic limitations.

“A wide range of practices can support an agroecological farming approach with different practices relevant for different locations and aspects of farming,” said Thompson.

She said that for cropland management, practices included: reducing reliance on inorganic fertilisers, pesticides and herbicides and instead using green manures; introducing natural predators or managing weeds through variety selection; limiting tillage and making use of crop rotations and cover crops to support soil health and to control pests and diseases.

“For livestock management this may mean reducing reliance on inorganic fertilisers for grassland; focusing on permanent pasture grazing over temporary grassland; favouring high forage over low forage diets; good manure management; and careful use of antibiotics”.

Stating that Scottish livestock farmers needed support to adopt nature-based farming practices which could contribute to climate and biodiversity goals, Thompson said:

“Overall, we see several opportunities for Scottish livestock farmers to adopt agroecological practices that could help contribute to climate and biodiversity goals if they are properly supported.

She said that these were opportunities that appeared to have been taken by EU counterparts and could be promising quick wins if they were taken up to a greater level on Scotland.

“We also see that Scottish crop farmers have been successful in adopting several agroecological approaches. There is an opportunity here to learn what has driven adoption in this group and how learning can be transferred to the livestock sector.”

The survey of Scottish farmers took place as part of the EU funded LIFT (Low-Input Farming and Territories) project between January and March 2020

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