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November 29, 2022

Go further and faster

The Scottish Government’s consultation on its new Agriculture Bill closes next Monday. The huge annual budget (£600m) makes this a rare opportunity for the Government to get much more bang for its buck when it comes to achieving its climate change and biodiversity targets. The Bill also has potentially important implications for other areas of policy interest – land reform and community wealth building. Some aspects of the Bill show real ambition, but in others the Scottish Government fails to go either far enough or fast enough.  In SCA’s response we’ll be arguing for much more rapid and radical change.


Agriculture is a major contributor to Scotland’s greenhouse gas emissions, through methane, carbon dioxide and various nitrogenous gases, but the agricultural target in the updated Climate Change Plan of a 24% reduction between 2020 and 2032 is by far the smallest of all sectors of the economy. However, there is currently no credible path to achieve even this limited ambition: if the Agriculture Bill does not drive significant reductions the prospect of achieving net zero targets is very remote. As the Climate Change Committee’s 2021 Progress Report says “There is … an urgent need for post-CAP low-carbon agriculture policy. The Scottish Government will be introducing an Agriculture Bill in 2023, which will have to be sufficiently ambitious”: we do not consider that the current proposals meet that challenge.

Significant changes in emphasis are needed in three key areas:

  1.     Eligibility criteria must be more demanding: all payments must be contingent on delivery of outcomes relating to efficiencies, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and/or nature restoration and enhancement.
  2.     There should be much stronger focus on, and a greater share of the budget for innovation, skills training, emissions reduction and wider rural development projects.
  3.     There should be a more inclusive and balanced distribution of the budget between beneficiaries, with capping of subsidies for individual businesses and easier access for new entrants and small-scale producers.

Proposals to change land use to tackle climate change or restore nature are often opposed on the grounds of “food security”, but this is an appeal to fear that does not in any way reflect the reality of Scottish agri-business perpetuated by the current subsidy regime, which is very inefficient in terms of both food production and supply chain resilience:

  •   Most arable land grows barley and wheat for alcohol production and animal feed;
  •   Most of the rest of our agricultural land is used for extensive sheep and cattle grazing;
  •   The food supply chain is dominated by large scale processors and supermarkets.

Food security and supply chain resilience should be a focus of policy, however this will not be achieved by simply finding new pretexts for the same old subsidies, but by transforming to a low carbon food economy, with more local production, processing and retail.

Scotland’s climate ensures that we will never grow some foodstuffs, from bananas to coffee, but it is perfectly feasible to produce more of the food we can grow here, from pork to vegetables, whilst reducing the environmental impact and releasing land from production.

Changes in food production must be matched by changes in consumption to ensure that emissions are not off-shored, and a clear plan is needed to move towards healthy, low-carbon diets. This may not be within the scope of the Bill but the Scottish Government must assume a much more proactive role in this area.