The farmer-led Dairy Sector Climate Change Group has been blown away by the positive response to their call for evidence.

A survey issued via social media, NFUS and the group’s own networks have clearly demonstrated that the dairy sector in Scotland is up for the challenge created by climate change.

One thing that became clear very quickly is that the dairy sector in Scotland is progressive and adaptable. The vast majority (95%) of respondents were already well aware of the climate change challenge.

Most are ready to take actions but many need guidance and advice to be able to deliver on government objectives. There is a real willingness to make changes to management practices if barriers, such as capital funding and knowledge gaps, can be adequately addressed.

The dairy sector's climate change group only started work in January, 2021, and was given until mid-March to develop advice and proposals for how the dairy sector in Scotland could cut emissions and tackle climate change.

No small task admitted chair of the group, Jackie McCreery, of Yester Dairy, Gifford: "We assembled a group of 12 dairy farmers from across Scotland with differing farming systems and sizes and a good spread of knowledge.

"The group has had four formal meetings and countless e-mails, WhatsApps and zoom calls in the interim – some on a Friday evening, with a tipple in hand, it has to be said," she said.

"The clear message we gained from all our deliberations is that we need to set a baseline across the whole of agriculture – let’s get an accurate picture of the carbon footprint of Scottish agriculture and work from there. Robust data and a consistent set of baseline criteria is needed.

"From those, we can then identify appropriate plans and mechanisms to enable every farm in Scotland to make improvements. This starts with increased efficiency and productivity.

"No matter what the farming system, whether extensive or intensive, these two factors alone can go a long way to improve the environmental impact of our farms as well as increase profitability.

"Of our survey respondents, more than half said they had already undertaken a carbon audit and of the remaining responses, a third planned to undertake one. However, around half of the respondees who had done an audit cited need for capital investment and the lack of funding as the barrier to undertaking the actions identified," she pointed out.

"It was also clear that there are multiple auditing tools being used and the results are not always fully understood by farmers. In essence, they risk being a tick box exercise if not followed up and changes implemented.

"We are, of course, not the only farmer led group established by Cabinet Secretary, Fergus Ewing. There are groups for all the sectors of Scottish agriculture which are all due to have reported by the mid-March deadline."

The beef suckler group was formed 18 months ago and had already issued a detailed report, the ideas from which are now being developed further. But, a great degree of commonality is emerging between all the groups.

Mrs McCreery added: "We now have a unique opportunity for the farmer-led groups to come together, in dialogue with government, to develop an integrated approach to delivering the multiple objectives of government, farmers and society tailored to Scottish needs.

"Whilst each sector of agriculture has a differing impact in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, the solution will be for the whole industry to work together to maximise the impact of measures across the board _ not only those which mitigate emissions, but also maintain and improve the stores of carbon in our land.

"Dairy farming and agriculture as a whole, does not need to be defensive about climate change. We want to be part of the solution and deliver for the whole of society," she said.