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26th February 2020

Science Do Scotland’s farmers have a problem with climate change?

Science Do Scotland’s farmers have a problem with climate change?

Science

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Climate change was a hot topic at the NFU Scotland conference

Do Scotland’s farmers have a problem coming to terms with the realities of climate change?

At the annual farmers’ union conference in Glasgow, the issue was a thread which ran through the two days.

With the appointment last year of a climate change policy officer, it appears the union see this as a top priority.

But the tone and language used at the conference suggests there’s a way to go.

In his “state of the union” address, NFU Scotland president Andrew McCornick twice used the word “hoax” in talking about climate change.

It began with an analogy about calling for a fire engine to deal with the “emergency” of a farm fire and concluded that farmers need the tools to deal with climate change.

He added that without the right tools “the call – hoax or not – was pointless”.

It could be argued that the language was clumsy and related to the analogy and not the existence of climate change.

But in a follow up, Mr McCornick repeated the phrase but this time specifically about climate change and not about a theoretical farm fire.

Asked afterwards whether he believed climate change was a hoax, he told me: “No, I’m accepting that but I’m saying that regardless of whether you think it is real or not we need to have the tools in the box.

“What I was doing as a president of a lobbying organisation is [saying] I would want these questions answered. If we don’t put these questions out there, you’ve got to show us and give us the evidence.

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Many farmers feel they are being ‘blamed’ for climate change

“I think we are working with a lot of incomplete science which is allowing people to make brash, bold statements without having to evidence them 100%. A half truth can actually do more damage than actually telling an untruth.”

In fairness, many farmers have felt they are being “blamed” for climate change.

A string of documentaries has shone a bright light on global livestock practices which organisations like NFU Scotland argue are not reflective of the industry at home.

A report last month from the Committee on Climate Change, which informs government policy, said we should reduce our meat consumption by 20% to free up grazing land for tree plantations.

But that would see cattle numbers shrink and the Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing has said he does not advocate such a policy.

He said: “I wouldn’t myself subscribe to that.

“I think we need to look beyond the headline here and recognise that what we want is a balanced, nutritious diet overall and not make arbitrary distinctions of that nature.”

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The conference finished with a keynote speech by Fergus Ewing

And having spent an evening mingling with farmers at the union’s annual dinner – with beef as the main course – Mr Ewing felt there was a clear understanding of what the industry needs to do.

He added: “In the substantial majority of cases there is no kickback, there is a recognition that this is something we have to do.”

But during a morning session the chairman of the Less Favoured Area committee, Robert Macdonald, told the conference he is “not a great believer in all this climate change”.

He qualified that by adding that he does believe it exists, but not that farmers can do very much about it.

Ruth Taylor, the new climate change policy officer, points out that the farming union is a broad church with a varied set of views.

She said: “It is definitely not a hoax, it is very real.

“Whether anybody accepts it or not, it is a priority for the Scottish government, it is a priority for us as a union and I think the conversation about climate change has come so far in the last 18 months.”

The conference was concluded with a keynote speech by Fergus Ewing who told delegates that farmers are part of the solution and not the problem.

He announced a £40m fund to help provide farmers with the tools to tackle climate change

Could these be the very tools the union’s president called for in his farm fire analogy?

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