After a year like the one just past, the only way to look surely has to be forward.

We can only hope that by the time the bells came round once again for us all, that looked back on both the coronavirus crisis and the long, drawn-out process of Brexit as things we’ve left well behind us. And which, while a appearing like insurmountable problems at the time, eventually blew over, leaving us fit to face up to the next challenge.

Because, despite these twin thorns in our side, there’s an even bigger challenge that we’re going to have to face up to – and it’s not likely to be one which will go away any time soon.

To be optimistic (which we simply have to be at this time of year) we could view meeting the challenges of climate change as a real opportunity for the farming industry to take a lead in the so-called 'Green Recovery' and place ourselves in pole position for bringing about a new and better society, more in tune with its surroundings.

And it’s probably the right way to look at things, because, like it or lump it, we’re going to have to do our bit on the climate change front. This was spelled out pretty bluntly in the updated version of Scotland’s Climate Change Plan, published in the run up to Christmas.

For, while agriculture did actually play a bit of a leading role in the publication, it would be fair to say that while the mood music was, on the surface, quite supportive to our sector, the chorus was heavily focused on reducing emissions of greenhouse gases.

On the plus side, the acknowledgement within the 250-page report of the importance of agriculture, food and drink to the Scottish economy – including the £3.3bn worth of gross output and the 67,000 jobs in rural areas – had to be welcomed.

So, too, did the recognition that for the country to live up to its high ideals of reducing overall greenhouse gas emissions, it has to avoid ‘off-shoring’ greenhouse gas emissions by reducing our own production at the cost of importing more goods, many of which might have been produced to lower standards across the board and which also come with a much increased food mile burden:

“... were Scotland to cease to produce high quality food and in particular meat, then that production would simply take place elsewhere, effectively resulting in no change to global emissions and with the potential that our carbon footprint would be higher,” said the report.

There is also an acceptance that, as a host of many biological processes, farming will always have some emissions. So, the plan stressed that a fine balance must be found to ensure greenhouse gas reductions can take place while Scotland continues to produce the high quality and sustainable food which its climate is suited to doing.

But these supportive words are accompanied by a stern message that the industry is not simply going to be excused its 7.7m tonnes of CO2 equivalent contribution to the country’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, but will have to play a crucial role in reducing them – and over a frighteningly short time-scale.

In fact, that figure has to drop to 5.5m tonnes by 2030 – a 30% reduction over the next 10 years. While we might sometimes point to the fact that emissions have dropped by around 15% since 1990, it’s a sad fact that just about all of that is due to the fall in the number of both cattle and sheep over the period.

The simple arithmetic means that, to meet the target, for each of the next 10 years emissions will have to fall four times faster than they have been doing since 1990 – so we’re really going to have to up the tempo of our response.

Now it’s true that the livestock sector accounts for around two-thirds of agriculture’s emissions, so has, quite rightly, been the focus of most attention – with a report on how the issues can be addressed already produced by the group working under the chairmanship of Jim Walker.

But there’s no doubt that all the other sectors of the industry also have an important role to play – and the announcement last week that the head count of the 'farmer-led' groups looking at ways of reducing emissions had risen to five emphasised this point.

Amidst little fanfare, the first meeting of the Arable Climate Change Group – which has been given the task of drawing up a similar sort of policy development plan for the cropping, horticulture and soft fruit sector as has been done for the beef sector – took place in the run up to Christmas.

It is good to see a farmer-led approach which gives the industry some real input into how the necessarily revolutionary changes in policy can best be introduced, while still retaining a viable farming sector. That’s just got to be welcomed.

But, especially in the run up to an election year, it does also distance the politicians from any blame likely to be attached to unsavoury steps which might be necessary to meet the required ends.

The arable group will be ably chaired by arable stalwart, Andrew Moir, chair of SQC, former chair of AgriScot and a former long-serving chair of NFU Scotland’s combinable crops committee, amongst a whole host of other posts. His hope is that a plan can be drawn up by March of this year.

However, the first action of the group has been to launch an appeal to everyone involved in the sector to feed ideas into the review in order to get as broad a range of ideas as possible on what sort of practices, schemes and capital grants might be required to help the cropping sector up its game.

But while the ‘win:win’ line that improving production efficiencies will also benefit the environment we hear so often is true to a certain extent, I can’t help but feel that we’d be kidding ourselves if we think that this will reduce emissions enough to reach the legally binding targets the Scottish Government has set itself.

It’s also worth remembering that whilst all the new schemes which come forward from these groups might be tested out as bolt-on pilots alongside the Basic Payment Scheme over the next couple of years, they’re likely to set the direction for future policy and support measures as area payments are inevitably phased out.

As the farm consultants, Andersons, have been pointing out at their recent round of on-line seminars, with some small exceptions, as farmers we get the current support payments pretty much for what we already do – producing food. But in future, we’ll have to fulfil additional measures likely to be more significant than the current greening requirements.

So, while we’ve complained for years that we’ve had to join in with the one size fits all EU requirements, we now have a chance to help devise something which will really be better suited to our own situation. Let’s grab it with both hands and feed into the discussions.

There was an advert in a recent edition of this paper asking for views – but just in case anyone missed it, some details can be found at: .

Make it a New Year’s resolution to get your voice heard – and join in the debate.