Farmers can be the heroes of the climate change battle by working together - Jim Booth

So many false accusations are thrown at the farming sector when it comes to the supposed ‘climate crimes’ of agriculture.

Jim Booth is Head of Co-op Development at SAOS, Scotland’s farming and food industry collaboration experts. www.saos.coop

I’m not going to dwell on those here, suffice to say that they are a cause of great frustration for the majority of farmers, especially here in Scotland and across Britain, whose farming practices tend to be a world removed – literally – from the provocative imagery portrayed by anti-farming lobby groups.

The truth, at least for a great many of the 24,000 farmer members of Scotland’s agricultural co-ops, is that farming can in many cases be the hero of the climate change battle, not the villain. The challenge is that as individuals, farmer voices can often be lost in the maelstrom of social media and news feeds.

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Working together is, I believe, the key. Whilst farmers working individually may be doing great things in terms of managing soil for carbon sequestration, investing in renewable energy or cutting their use of fossil fuels, collectively they can deliver even greater benefits.

When individual farmers co-operate, pool their resources, buying power and critical thinking then many more technologies, advisory services and knowledge transfer becomes available. It is also evident that when neighbouring farming units are drawn together to enhance habitat and biodiversity the benefits on a landscape scale can be significantly greater than where the work is done in isolation.

There are many examples of Scotland’s farming co-op’s taking a leadership role in the fight against climate change. In a recent episode of the OnFarm podcast, I spoke with Mark Brooking of First Milk – a major farmer owned milk processing and marketing co-op with over 200 farmer members in Scotland – about how his team have taken a lead in helping their members.

The main message is that farmers are very often already doing great things. Co-ops like First Milk are helping by sharing the best practice and learning between members and also – importantly – relaying good news and positive stories up the supply chain to give retailers, and in turn, consumers confidence that their food is produced in a climate friendly manner. When farmers come together, as in co-ops, it makes it easier to access the best advice and monitoring tools and therefore gives farmers the confidence to set and achieve targets, such as ultimately aiming for Net Zero. In the First Milk example, their target is to help their members – as a whole – cut emissions by 50 per cent by 2030 and achieve Net Zero by 2040.

This work to cut emissions is ongoing on many farms, and whilst things like cutting use of artificial fertilisers and making better use of organic manures, makes great ‘climate sense’ it also makes huge economic sense for individual businesses too. Technology in the form of new precision farming kit is often a key part of the solution for many farmers wishing to make more targeted use of inputs such as manures, fertilisers, seed and fuel. Here again, Scotland’s co-ops have a huge leadership role to play, with Machinery Rings in particular allowing farmers to share and employ high-cost equipment they might otherwise be unable to justify investing in.

Virtually no other industry has both the potential to cut emissions and positively fight climate change by actively capturing and locking up carbon. Farmers are already getting it right in many cases and with greater co-operation and collaboration Scotland’s farmers can have a climate friendly future to be proud of.

Jim Booth is Head of Co-op Development at SAOS, Scotland’s farming and food industry collaboration experts. www.saos.coop

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