SCOTLAND'S FARMERS have been urged to be cautious of selling off their carbon credits – because they may be needed to offset their own emissions in the future.

This warning has come from Scotland’s Tenant Farming Commissioner Bob McIntosh, who stressed that there must be no unintended consequences for the tenanted sector, and that tenants and crofters must have full access to the new suite of support measures which will accompany a future agricultural support scheme.

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Mr McIntosh said that there will be challenges ahead, where farmers will be expected to cut greenhouse gas emissions whilst continuing to produce food and contribute to sequestration actions such as tree planting and peatland restoration.

“All this attention on climate change comes at a time when, following exit from the EU, Scotland has the need – and the opportunity – to reshape the way in which agriculture and other land management activities are supported by public funds," said Mr Macintosh.

“The current support mechanisms are likely to be replaced by more targeted funding streams which encourage the delivery of public benefits such as action to reduce net emissions of greenhouse gases. At the same time, a ‘natural capital’ market is developing in carbon credits which enables those companies and industries which have unavoidable emissions to offset these by paying for sequestration activities by another party," he explained.

“So a land manager who plants native woodlands, or engages in peatland restoration, may be able to sell the carbon sequestration benefits associated with these activities to another party.

“The net result of all of this is that farmers face a different future," he cautioned. "One which has encouragement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, encouragement to increase sequestration activities and one where different sources of income are available."

He went on to highlight the array of pressures which farmers will face including the need to devote more land to woodland, to aid in the restoration of peatlands, reduce fertiliser use and breed livestock that have lower methane production.

“Balancing all of these needs will be a challenge for society as a whole and for individual farmers and land managers," he continued. "We can expect to see more help for farmers to carry out a carbon audit of their operations and more pressure for them to take action to make their own business carbon neutral, which suggests that farmers should be careful to avoid selling carbon credits at the moment in case they are needed to offset their own emissions.”

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He added that some aspects of the current agricultural holdings legislation will require to be reviewed, along with tweaking of the support measures, so that tenants and landlords of agricultural holdings are able to play a full part in delivering and benefitting from the new package of policies and support mechanisms.

“The Scottish Government has set up the Agriculture Reform Implementation Oversight Board (ARIOB) to assist it in the development and implementation of policies to support agriculture in becoming more economically and environmentally sustainable and I will, with the help of the members of the Tenant Farming Advisory Forum, be feeding into this process to ensure that new policies and implementation measures are suitably ‘tenant proofed’,” he concluded.