SCOTTISH AGRICULTURE is set to receive £40million in funding from the Scottish Government to help the industry tackle climate change.

Rural economy secretary Fergus Ewing announced the new Agricultural Transformation Programme as he addressed farmers and crofters at the annual NFUS conference in Glasgow last Friday (February 7).

The funding will be used to support pilot schemes to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and will include measures such as developing organic farming; peat-land restoration; promoting good grassland management; encouraging more tree planting and renewable energy investment.

Mr Ewing confirmed that the new funds are ‘additional money’ available to the sector and hoped it will go some way in ‘helping to allay critics of farming who are vocal right now’.

Exact details of when the funding will be available are yet to be unveiled but he said that the money will be available this year and will be apportioned as £20m of capital, to be paid as grants, and £20m in the form of loans.

“We want to give farmers and crofters notice if they have particular projects in mind and also bearing in mind that March will see the first tranche of convergence payments which could be an opportunity to invest in the future of sustainable farming,” Mr Ewing urged.

He confirmed that this funding announcement is an indication of the future direction of travel for the industry in terms of financial support.

“Farmers are increasingly expected to farm sustainably – it is what society wants and expects and there is little kickback from the industry about this, provided that it is both practical and doable and the outcomes can be measurable. Low carbon sourced food will in time become a benefit for farmers as it will demand a market premium up against food which has been produced to lower environmental standards.”

NFUS Dumfries branch chairman Stewart Wylie asked Mr Ewing how as an industry they can ‘mitigate the lies and bad science scapegoated by the media in relation to the vegan movement’ and how he can help turn the media tide?

“I believe you are part of the solution not part of the problem,” Mr Ewing responded, “and I will continue to speak out at every opportunity to say our quality meat is an essential part of a balanced diet in Scotland.

“Grasping the climate change agenda is possibly the best response of all and working together in collaboration over the next few years towards producing low carbon food.

“I don’t think people in Britain take kindly to hearing how they should run their personal lives and what they should eat, it wrangles with many people.”

Asked for his response to the recent UN climate change report which called for a 20% reduction in meat consumption, he said: “It is an entirely different argument when you look at processed and fresh meat. We need to look beyond the headlines and realise the more fresh meat we can provide to communities as part of a balanced diet, the better.”

He went on to attest to the benefits of mixed livestock grazing and why it is vital for the future of Scotland’s landscape.

“Mixed livestock grazing sustains permanent grassland and is great for biodiversity. If it were to cease, we would see a landscape made up of bracken, nettles, thistles and weeds, looking unkempt and unattractive. Scenery is the biggest selling point for visitors to Scotland and it looks the way it does, not by accident, but by management and activity, and we must retain that,” he concluded.

NFU Scotland president Andrew McCornick added: “NFU Scotland is already engaged and will continue to work very closely with Scottish Government in the design and implementation of new measures that will help our sector enhance its role in Scotland reaching net-zero and will work to ensure that measures are strongly focused on productivity and profitability.”