GRAZING ruminants are responsible for approximately 50% of the greenhouse gas emissions associated with agriculture in Scotland, according to a recent report from Moredun.

Researchers there are focussed on reducing emissions intensity – the amount of GHG emitted per unit of meat or milk produced – as a way of reducing overall agricultural emissions in Scotland, a key requirement for the country to meet internationally agreed reduction targets.

Senior Moredun research scientist, Dr Philip Skuce, explained that production-limiting diseases were a significant constraint on efficient and sustainable livestock production in Scotland and around the world, and that dealing effectively with such endemic diseases offered an opportunity to reduce emissions from the livestock sector, often without compromising productivity or farm economics.

Earlier in the year, Moredun researchers, in collaboration with Scotland’s Rural College, were tasked by ScotGov to deliver a rapid evidence assessment of the potential contribution that could be made towards reducing emissions from Scottish animal agriculture by eradicating or controlling livestock diseases.

The assessment provided a comparative analysis of the available evidence for twelve of the major livestock diseases in Scotland. Overall, it suggested that reductions in GHG emissions intensity could be achieved through the implementation of cost-effective control measures that impact on the factors that emissions intensity is particularly sensitive to – milk yield and cow fertility rates in dairy systems, cow/ewe fertility and abortion

rates, calf/lamb mortality and growth rates in beef and sheep systems, and feed conversion ratios in all systems.

GHG emissions savings were identified for all twelve diseases evaluated, but some diseases proved more tractable than others in terms of the availability of practical diagnostic and control options. In subsequent discussions with key livestock industry stakeholders, it was felt that selecting one major disease to attempt to eradicate would be difficult, given the nature of some of these diseases, the heterogeneity in the livestock sector, the different livestock species involved etc.

Rather, it was felt that more could be achieved at a national level through an accumulation of ‘marginal gains’ by encouraging farmers to investigate the specific livestock health issues on their farms and to implement best practice towards their control e.g. improved diagnosis, monitoring and biosecurity. This could be incentivised, for example, by ScotGov through a national Health Planning Scheme, involving improved engagement with veterinary services.

Discussions are ongoing with industry stakeholders and Scottish Government policy teams on how best to progress and some of the knowledge gaps identified in the GHG report are being addressed in the new Scottish Government Strategic Research Programme 2016-2012.