THERE ARE new plans afoot to rejuvenate Scotland’s suckler beef herd and transform it into a ‘world leader’ in the movement against climate change.

A new climate beef group made up of 10 ‘forward-thinking, progressive’ farmers will recommend to the Scottish Government next month what needs to be done in the mid to long term to support the suckler sector and to help mitigate its environmental impact.

New financial measures will be announced in the autumn, alongside a new successor to the Beef Efficiency Scheme which will draw on its more successful points but with a promise of less bureaucracy.

Farmers will be able to opt into the scheme which will be fully running by 2021 and although suckler beef has taken centre stage, the Scottish Government will follow up with sector specific climate change groups, which will focus on other areas such as crofting, dairy and arable.

Rural economy secretary, Fergus Ewing, told The SF that although there are many farming sustainably already, more work is needed in the wider suckler beef sector.

“This group will look at how we can improve efficiency, productivity and profitability, whilst looking at enhanced environmental contribution. We want the next generation to see that Scotland is ‘the place’ you would choose to have beef farming in the world. If we can combine our quality beef story with a good climate change story, then in time there might be a market premium for our produce.”

Looking ahead to Glasgow hosting the UN Climate Change Conference in November, he added: “I would like to stand up as Scottish farming secretary and say we are leading the planet in sustainable beef farming. I want to transform perceptions worldwide and this is totally achievable. We are doing a lot of it already and so much of the criticism is ill-founded and it can and will be easily dispersed.”

Co-chair of the new group and former NFUS president and QMS chairman, Jim Walker, explained that it was important to set Scotland apart from beef practices world-wide. “There have been a multitude of attacks and media confusion of late, over what actual contribution beef farming in the UK and particular in Scotland makes to climate change.

“We have seen programmes which mix up beef produced from dairy herds, beef produced from South America – burning down rainforests to do it – and beef produced in feedlots filled with hormones. We have lost sight of the science and facts behind this in the excitement of the veganism and climate debate.

“Naturally reared, climate friendly Scotch suckler bred beef needs to be differentiated from imports and dairy beef to give consumers a clear choice. This initiative will give those farmers who want to be involved a real chance of delivering this, helping make their businesses more robust.”

Referring to the new group, he pointed out that improving beef efficiency went hand-in-hand with climate change and that it is ‘past time’ that the beef sector caught up with sectors such as dairy and arable.

“We need to make better use of grassland that is productive, then turn other parts to habitat and biodiversity – it’s the best of both worlds. The arable sector has been doing it for years and now they realise it is the best way to have an efficient business. The beef industry needs to catch up and then we can flip into the climate change agenda.”

Mr Walker insisted that this group was not another talking shop and that it would deliver long-term for Scotland. “The whole point of this is to get things done, this is not another fig leaf for doing nothing. I watch the next generation desperate to do something different and this is going to help them do it.

“If we can get carbon friendly beef out there in front of younger consumers, we might be able to take more from the marketplace and therefore rely less on subsidies.”

The Scottish Government cannot confirm at this stage what funding will be available but indicated that support could come from existing schemes, including the recently announced £40m Agricultural Transformational Programme – earmarked to support farming tackle climate change.

Mr Ewing confirmed: “There will be some solid, effective financial incentives involved. I want to provide financial support, but more directly than previous basic farm payments.”

Anticipating those who may have doubts over the new scheme’s deliverability, he reassured: “I won’t ask people to do something that is undeliverable. They don’t want to be bound into a series of theoretical policies which are undeliverable, it would imperil the whole support of the farming community. Farmers would rather have a scheme that works from the beginning than a Rolls Royce scheme that ends up in the garage,” he concluded.

NFUS president, Andrew McCornick, responded: “We welcome this week's announcement from the Scottish Government of a new group to drive forward practical measures to support the beef sector in reducing emissions. That will go hand-in-hand with improving efficiency, productivity and profitability.

“This announcement, and the firm intention for Jim and the group to produce an initial report next month, builds momentum following last week’s commitment from the Scottish Government of £40m to support a new Agricultural Transformation Programme. That will allow Scottish farmers, crofters and land managers to make plans for investing in a low emissions future and assist them in making that transition.”

Scottish Association of Meat Wholesalers executive manager, Martin Morgan, added: “This is an opportunity to breathe new life into our primary production sector which we believe can be the bedrock of a environmentally sustainable and profitable Scotch beef industry.

“With the entire supply chain needing to play a part in addressing the global climate challenge, there has never been more a pressing time for the Minister to act. We applaud the formation of this new group and look forward to hearing and studying its recommendations.”