Improving on-farm production, plus encouraging better soil and grass management are to the fore of the newly launched report by the Suckler Beef Cattle Group (SBCG).

The aim of many of those will be to reduce net greenhouse gas emissions from Scottish suckler beef herds and the SBCG has made a number of recommendations regarding new management practices, as well as changes to existing ones.

In an important steer as to how farming will be funded in the future and will involve the provision of part-funding towards appropriate capital items, as well as relevant training.

Its proposed 'Suckler Beef Climate Scheme' focusses on two key outcomes – to reduce the emissions intensity of suckler beef systems by improving on-farm production and GHG efficiencies through better input and resource utilisation and secondly, to maintain and, where possible, enhance soil carbon storage, and reduce GHG emissions from farmland through better soil and grassland management.

The group has identified several key criteria to form the baseline minimum requirements of the scheme and be carried out by all participating businesses. These will include, for example, completing a farm business carbon audit, outlining a nutrient management plan, carrying out soil, forage, and manure analysis.

The scheme targets six main areas of production identified as having the greatest potential to reduce net GHG by improving performance and input utilisation, maintaining current soil carbon stores, and supporting further soil carbon sequestration where this is possible.

Recognising that uptake of best practice may be prohibited by the initial capital cost required to invest in new infrastructure or upgrades to existing ones, it proposed that the scheme should make part-funding towards the acquisition of a list of pre-defined capital items available.

Options include financial assistance towards the purchasing of lime; support towards expenses associated with covering slurry stores and purchasing slurry spreading attachments. The group recommended financial assistance towards the purchase of precision grassland and crop technology, as well as precision livestock farming and cattle monitoring technology.

It believed that access to innovative technology and relevant training will not only benefit individual farming businesses, but also generate additional labour opportunities within the Scottish suckler beef sector and beyond, thereby encouraging more people into the industry and particularly the younger generation.

As a recognition of the efforts and achievements of participating businesses, work is ongoing to create a quality standard trademark which the group believes offers farmers a means of promoting their produce to the end consumer as climate-friendly food.

Chair of the SBCG, Jim Walker, commented: “The sale and marketing of these products will be promoted by a trademark and a certification mark which will be licensed to users, thereby allowing participating farmers to reduce their reliance on public support to generate a profit margin, and gain some control over the marketing of their produce within a supply chain system that hasn't functioned properly for the last 25 years.”

A key focus of the scheme will be on improving breeding herd management, for example, encouraging participants to increase the number of calves reared, reducing mature cow size, and lowering the number of unproductive replacement heifers by calving down at two years old. This, the group believed, could reduce emissions intensity of an average rearer finisher unit by almost 10%, even in the short term.

In keeping with the recent National Beef Association proposals, the group also suggests that reducing the age of slaughter by three months could increase total emissions savings to more than 20%. However, it said that provision should be made for high nature value and slower maturing breeds within the framework.

The proposal is that such a scheme should be open to all suckler beef farmers regardless of business structure, type, size or location. Dairy breeds are excluded and eligible calves, stores and finishing cattle must have at least 75% beef genetics, whilst eligible suckler cows must have at least 50% beef genetics and be bred to a beef bull.

It is suggested that, after an initial period for businesses to register interest in early 2021, the scheme should open for applications via submission of the Single Application Form in spring, 2021.