By Neil Wilson, executive director, Institute of Auctioneers and Appraisers in Scotland (IAAS)

With vaccination under way there is light at the end of the Covid tunnel, and although Brexit issues remain very much live, we are working hard to get sensible trade going again for our customers and members,

One problem that isn’t going anywhere though, is climate change.

For an industry that is based entirely on natural resources and the weather, it is essential that we fully acknowledge this threat and now approach it with the urgency it deserves. It is both our responsibility to do so, and critical to our, and future generations’, survival.

Not only that, but consumers are demanding it of us. We must listen to them with seriousness and respect, and call-out outdated attitudes that stop us being customer-focused.

Millennials (those born between 1981-96) are often tarred as flaky ‘snowflakes’. But they are the first generation to put such weight on ethics, rather than price, when choosing what to buy and eat. As an industry that complains food production isn’t valued properly, that’s something we should celebrate.

Ethical eating choices are more highly valued by 18-34-year-olds than any other demographic, according to a 2018 report by food marketing company Culinary Visions Panel.

Not only this, but 90% of millennials say they are willing to spend more on products containing environmentally friendly or sustainable ingredients, compared to 61% of baby boomers. Around 75% of this younger cohort say they plan to change their purchasing habits to reduce their environmental impact, compared to 34% of older consumers, according to Neilson and Business Rescue Expert.

The plugged-in, campaigning generation coming up underneath millennials, looks just as likely to put the environment high on their priority list.

What’s more, as these young people get older, they will form a bigger and bigger section of consumers, voters, business leaders, and policy makers. We ignore them at our peril.

If we embrace them however, improve our environmental credentials, and communicate our story, things look more promising. But we have to show them we’re serious, and the livestock industry currently faces a bigger challenge than any other farming sector to do this.

There are however, many practical and measurable changes we can make to tackle climate change and emissions in livestock production.

Largely, this rests on being as productive as possible. That doesn’t mean churning out more product, but producing livestock that use resources more efficiently, thereby producing more meat or milk in a more efficient manner, and reducing emissions as a result.

There are many ways to do this, that I won’t elaborate on here, but which are explained well by organisations such as QMS and NFUS, and the recent Suckler Beef Climate Scheme report. In a nutshell though, actions include improving herd performance and genetics, feeding regimes, good grass management, and proper slurry management.

Marts want to be part of the change

Auction marts want to be a key part of this transition: We want to sell the most climate friendly livestock in the world – and we think there is a premium for doing so.

Looking ahead, we know that data collection about a herd’s environmental sustainability is going to increasingly be a requirement – from government, retailers, and food manufacturers.

Rather than groaning about it, let’s harness it.

Imagine using an app to see which stock will feature in an upcoming sale, and being able to look at each beast’s environmental performance indicators. Buyers would be able to select the most sustainable animals and convert this into a premium.

Key to this though, will be communicating climate credentials to customers. Scotch Beef and Scotch Lamb already hold huge prestige at home and abroad thanks to the work of QMS – but imagine if we could build on them with a climate friendly brand.

Confused but concerned consumers are crying out for these kind of purchasing tools to aide decision making – let’s help them choose our meat with a good conscience.

This vision is one reason why I’m sitting on the Scottish Government’s Suckler Beef Climate Group Programme Board co-chaired by Cabinet Secretary, Fergus Ewing and Jim Walker. Jim chaired a group which recently published the Suckler Beef Climate Scheme Report, which will provide us with a blueprint going forward, and no doubt we will be hearing more on this soon.

Our industry has a unique opportunity to demonstrate to the rest of the world that modern red meat production can go alongside reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and enhanced biodiversity.

There is barely another industry anywhere that can sequester carbon whilst making its product. We can do that.

But we have no time to lose. This year Scotland’s farming industry will be under the spotlight more than any other country as Glasgow hosts international climate conference, COP26. Let’s show the world how sustainable we already are, but how ambitious we are to do better still.


* Ethical eating choices are more highly valued by 18-34 year olds than any other demographic (Culinary Visions Panel)

* 90% of Millennials say they are willing to spend more on products containing environmentally friendly or sustainable ingredients, compared to 61% of Baby Boomers (Neilson and Business Rescue Expert)

* By 2050 Millennials will influence 75% of the population (IGD)

* 52% of shoppers now say they either follow, or are interested in following a plant-based diet, and this rises to 68% for 18-24 year olds (IGD)

Climate change in Scotland

* The Scottish Government deems climate change to be a ‘global emergency’

* Total UK rainfall from extremely wet days increased by around 17% between 2008-2017, with changes largest in Scotland (Met Office)

* Hot summers like in 2018 could happen every other year by 2050 (Scottish Government)

* 2045 – year by which Scotland plans to produce net zero emissions

* 2.6MT CO2e (2018) - estimated annual emissions produced by the Scottish suckler beef sector (Suckler Beef report to Scottish Government).

* Cattle farming accounts for 26% of total agricultural output in Scotland, making it the largest and most important enterprise type within the Scottish farming industry and proportionally more significant than elsewhere within the UK where it accounts for approximately 15% of agricultural output (Suckler Beef report to Scottish Government).