The Nature Friendly Farming Network (NFFN), an independent group of farmers working across the UK to improve the environment while producing healthy food, believes shifting to agricultural methods that boosts wild plants and animals would also bring wider benefits to society.
The NFFN, which has a Scottish steering group, insists that eco-friendly farming practices can also be more profitable and efficient than their intensive equivalents over the long term.
The group says dramatic change is possible but the industry must receive strong government backing via new policies and financial support.
The NFFN works with hundreds of farmers and crofters across Scotland who report the pluses of nature-friendly farming – including bigger yields, increased biodiversity, improved carbon sequestration and healthier soil.
Now, a week before Scots head to the polls, NFFN Scotland is calling for all political parties to commit to five key measures.
These are: achieving net-zero emissions from agriculture by 2045; create policies to address both climate change and biodiversity loss and provide “public money for public good” to ensure environmental benefits; maintain strong environmental and animal welfare standards while putting pressure on the UK government to ensure Scottish farmers are not undercut; invest in and promote local food systems, enabling farmers to earn a fair return for healthy, affordable and sustainably produced food; and provide the public and farmers with education, support and training about the role of healthy soils, thriving farm ecosystems and nature in ensuring business resilience.
Michael Clarke, NFFN Scotland chair, believes nature-friendly farming can also help rebuild the country in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
He said: “The year 2020 was a period of unprecedented difficulty for all of us.
“The future government will be presented with a unique opportunity to deliver a clear road-map and ambitious policies that put nature and community resilience at the heart of food production.
“With the right tools and support in place, farmers can lead on reversing biodiversity loss and the transition to a net-zero economy.”
Phil Knott, a crofter on the Isle of Skye, lives on a three-hectare wooded croft.
He adopted a nature-friendly approach when he took over his croft on the Sleat peninsula in 2015, and since then has planted new hedgerows and 1,700 trees.
As a result of these changes biodiversity has risen significantly – more than 244 species of moth have been recorded on the croft and there has been an increase in birdlife, including cuckoo, whinchat, stonechat, redpoll and snipe.
“All farm and croft types, regardless of scale or system, can find the sweet spot where it’s possible to maximise income by balancing food production and improving nature,” he said.
“As more farmers look to diversify, now is the time for politicians to recognise the importance of farming with nature, not against it.
“I will be asking my MSP to prioritise the survival of Scottish farm and croft businesses by delivering nature-friendly farming policies, and I would like to encourage farmers across Scotland to do the same.”
Results from a recent survey by the NFFN suggest most Scots back a move to more ecologically beneficial food production.
More than eight out of ten said farming policies should support Scottish farmers to maintain and improve the environment and wildlife on farms.
Meanwhile, three quarters of those questioned wanted public money used to help Scottish farmers produce healthy soils, food, landscapes and rivers and encourage wildlife to recover and flourish.