AS WE head into the Scottish winter, we can look back on a year of decent weather with most places having seen good grass growth throughout the year – no deforestation required in this beautiful country to grow crops to feed livestock.

The ability to grow tonnes of grass is, in fact, one of the critical strengths of our red meat production system. Through grazing livestock, we can up-cycle inedible crops (grass) into edible and highly nutrient-dense foods (meat and milk), on land that is often incapable of growing anything else.

Unlike in some other parts of the world, where livestock production is much more intense and predominantly grain-fed, Scotland’s cattle and sheep eat mostly home-grown fodder watered by plentiful rain. Farmers reading this will also know that well-managed grasslands have numerous other environmental benefits, including as habitats for certain wildlife and in preventing soil erosion.

Grasslands can also help to absorb carbon from the atmosphere. How much, exactly, is still being wrestled with by scientists and depends on many factors, but the opportunity this presents for livestock farmers to help tackle climate change should not be overlooked. We are, after all, about the only business sector that can claim to sequester carbon from the atmosphere.

One thing is for sure: Land management is going to need to increasingly fulfil multiple needs – combating climate change, tackling biodiversity loss and land degradation, and continuing to feed our ever-growing population. Well-managed Scottish livestock farming, supported by our grasslands, can do all all these things.

It is bizarre, therefore, that we continue to see forestry investment companies buying up good, productive Scottish farmland for tree planting. Should the Scottish Government fund them to allow these companies to profit from selling carbon offsetting credits?

Bearing in mind that many of these plantation companies later deforest the land to sell the wood tax-free. Where does the ‘public money for public goods’ come into that equation?

The government is, in my view, missing the much bigger picture in its rush to plant trees. Trees might absorb carbon, but so do our existing grasslands, managed by our existing land managers, ie farmers.

Whilst trees and hedges form critical parts of red meat farming systems, non-native mono-cultures have little ecological value to biodiversity, absolutely no food production capacity, and very limited long-term rural employment opportunities. The value of livestock farming to this, is incomparable, yet it often gets scant recognition for it.

So, why is someone from IAAS talking about trees and grass? What I am really talking about is the future of the farming industry in Scotland – our heritage and ability to produce top class Scotch Beef and Lamb from an environment that seems to thrive with livestock at the heart of it.

This is all our futures, including farmers, livestock marts, butchers, abattoirs, and every-one else who makes up our red meat supply chain.

COP26 is not just on the horizon but it is galloping towards us all. In a few days' time, Glasgow will be full of politicians, lobbyists, media and probably some protestors. We are all told this will be the most important COP summit yet to halt climate change.

There is no doubt agriculture and livestock farming will be highlighted as a terrible source of warming and pollution, without much thought for the bigger picture I have outlined above.

We must counter this and are fortunate that we have organisations such as QMS and Scotland Food and Drink playing some part in the events around COP26. I am sure they will be highlighting the nutritional, environmental and economic strengths of Scottish red meat production.

The sector is estimated to be 65% more efficient, by emissions, than the average global red meat production system and it has been suggested that Scotland is responsible for less than 0.2% of all global livestock emissions. Brazil, meanwhile, talks of adding 24m cattle to its national herd over the next decade.

Whilst change in Scotland will, therefore, barely move the global dial on livestock emissions, it is still incumbent on every one of us to make the whole red meat chain as efficient as possible. Being one of the world’s most climate and nature-friendly meat and milk producers can, and should, be our unique selling point and as auctioneers our aim will be to sell the most climate-friendly livestock going.

Can we all make the sector carbon neutral, or even negative? I have no idea and suspect that the science is still out on this one, but we can still try our hardest to achieve it.

COP26 gives us the opportunity to highlight our brand to the world. People still want to eat beef and lamb so let’s give them Scotch. Let us all work together to improve our systems and efficiencies.

The work undertaken by the Suckler Beef Climate Change Board, led by Jim Walker and Fergus Ewing, laid the path for this change, regardless of whether government does anything with it or not.

We already have climate and biodiversity-friendly farming systems in most of Scotland and we can all improve, but what we need to do is be able to prove it. Capturing the information that can be relayed to consumers to give them guilt-free red meat choices is a must.

That will allow us to boost the Scotch brand with properly audited green credentials and perhaps even the opportunity for a new brand altogether.

Let’s all get on with ‘greening up’ even more than we are already: Take advantage of current schemes available through FAS for Resilience Planning funding which includes a carbon audit so you have a starting point. Then start working on the changes that can be made on farm to improve.

Our industry’s vision must be that we have a world leading red meat system that can help tackle climate change and biodiversity loss, while also feeding us.

Capturing the monetary value of this will be vital to enable continued transition to more productive and environmentally sustainable systems, and the live auction system continues to be the leading place to find that value.