Farmers Hold The Key To Scotland's Tree Planting Targets: New Study

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Farmers Hold The Key To Scotland's Tree Planting Targets: New Study


A new nature-friendly form of farming could put farmers at the forefront of tree planting in Scotland, according to the Soil Association.

Francesca Brooking

Wed 22 Jun 2022

Earlier in June, a 'Transition to Agroecology in Scotland' exhibition hosted by the Soil Association took place at Holyrood.

The aim was to show how a transition to agroecological methods could secure Scotland’s position as a global leader in sustainable farming.

The secret?

Nature-friendly farming combined with a farmer-led revolution in tree planting.

This strategy could help Scotland meet the government’s Net Zero and nature recovery targets. Here’s how.

Agroforestry – integrating trees with livestock

What is the Transition to Agroecology in Scotland exhibition?

The exhibition brought together agroecological farmers, crofters and policy makers at Holyrood to demonstrate what nature friendly farming looks like in practice.

This includes reducing the use of chemical pesticides and artificial nitrogen, improving soil health and increasing biodiversity all while producing high quality crops.

The strategy also goes a step further by integrating trees with livestock and crops. This puts farmers at the forefront of planting trees in Scotland.

Soil Association head of policy David McKay said: “The government has set an ambition for Scotland to be a global leader in sustainable and regenerative agriculture.

“We align with their vision for agriculture and will present evidence of how agroecological and agroforestry farming practices can help achieve this in practice and in so doing help restore nature, cut farming emissions, and feed everyone a healthy diet.”

“Given the extent of the farmed landscape in Scotland, farmers will be key to achieving tree planting targets”

What is a farmer-led tree revolution?

A new study by Soil Association in collaboration with Cumulus Consultants called ‘Trees and Woodland in the Farmed Landscape’ was launched at the exhibition to show how farmers can help Scotland meet its tree planting targets.

The initial target set out by the Scottish Government was to increase the annual tree planting to 18,000 hectares per year by 2024 in order to combat climate change.

However, the initiative proved challenging with 80% of Scotland’s total land mass under agricultural production.

Switching the land to accommodate large scale afforestation threatens the country’s food and farming system.

The Soil Association argues that the integration of trees into arable land and livestock pastures could account for 68% of the 18,000 hectares per year goal.

Plus, it also has the potential to increase farm income, support farming systems and improve their performance and resilience in the face of climate change.

David said: “Given the extent of the farmed landscape in Scotland, farmers will be key to achieving tree planting targets.

“This study provides recommendations for government and an economic model to demonstrate how agroforestry and integrated farm woodland offer a viable and cost-effective way to enhance tree planting across Scotland without reducing agricultural production and the inevitable impact this would have on the food system and risk of carbon leakage offshore through the complete conversion of agricultural land.

“Strategically increasing agroforestry and farm woodland in Scotland has the potential to enhance the performance of the agricultural economy and develop new income streams for farmers.”

Learn more about how farming can work in harmony with our natural habitats: What Are Peatlands And Why Are They Important?

The new Soil Association study concludes that agroforestry will provide additional income streams for farmers

A new mainstream form of farming?

The Soil Association highlights that the main challenges holding this new form of farming back from widespread adoption are public policy and investment to incentivise farmers.

The study weighed up the economic impacts on a range of farm types. It suggested that the adoption of agroforestry on up to 5% of existing agricultural land could be achieved with an annual cost of £100m.

This is feasible when compared to the current £600m spent on farm support and another £150m given to fund the acceleration of tree planting initiatives in the 2021-2022 Programme for Government.

This new nature friendly form of land management puts tree planting initiatives in symbiosis with agriculture rather than the mainstream one-or-the-other system that exists today.

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