SCOTTISH FARMING cannot have the rug pulled out from under its feet by multinationals buying up carbon credits on grazing land.

This was one of the main talking points of a recent webinar, hosted by NFU Scotland, which discussed the transition towards a new agricultural policy.

Union president Martin Kennedy told members that this would be the biggest change for Scottish agriculture for decades and stressed that the future had to be about ‘how land is farmed, not what you have or had, but what you do with it’, advocating a future policy based on the principles of food, climate and biodiversity.

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A frank discussion followed on carbon credits, with Mr Kennedy coining them Scotland’s new ‘crown jewels’.

“There is huge opportunity here for those working the land, but we have to be mindful we don’t lose our carbon and biodiversity credits when we are the ones delivering them.

"We produce these green credentials, which we have managed for generations, and all too often it is simple for multinationals to buy into these carbon credits and pull them from under our feet."

He referred to problems in New Zealand with large companies like Ikea buying up huge areas of upland to plant trees, which has left farmers worried that the trend is threatening the future of sheep and beef farming in the country.

Commenting on what is happening in Scotland, he continued: “I was at farm recently where rough grazing that is probably worth £500 an acre for agricultural purposes is saleable for £3500 an acre for forestry – It is very difficult to compete. How are we now going to get the land for new entrants to get the next generation involved in agriculture?"

NFUS head of policy, Johnnie Hall, added: “We have got a very unregulated market at the moment in terms of carbon credits. We need a significant amount of ‘slowing the whole thing down’ and operating it to common standards etc, so we can get to a better place in understanding the worth of carbon and whether we should sell it or not, or maintain the value for ourselves and get an annual income for it moving forward. Once we have sold it, it is like the family silver, it is gone.”

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Discussion moved on to the Farmer Led Groups' recommendations for the future shape of Scottish agricultural policy, with Mr Hall revealing there would be a pilot of around 1000 farms to build up a picture of how a future scheme would work in practice. He reassured members that 2021 funding has been ringfenced, but warned that going forward ‘all bets are off’, due to pressure on public finances.

When asked whether whispers of a livestock cull to reduce numbers had any truth behind it, Mr Kennedy stressed it was ‘absolute nonsense’, highlighting how important ruminant livestock are, not just to Scottish agriculture but to the wider economy.

Mr Hall concluded: “Reducing livestock production is not the answer, we would simply suck in imports, therefore carbon would be offshored, let alone animal health and welfare implications. Reducing production is a non-starter as far as we are concerned, and we do have Mairi Gougeon on record in front of a parliamentary committee saying exactly that, and we will hold her to it.”