This was one of the take-home messages delivered to around 70 farmers who attended an open-farm dairy day organized by SAC Consulting, part of Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC), in Wigtownshire. The event, funded by the University Innovation Fund from the Scottish Funding Council, centered around equipping farmers with knowledge and tools to practically implement on their farm, which would help reduce emissions and drive overall productivity.
During visits to different workshops on the host farm Culscadden, farmers heard from a range of experts offering advice on improving soil health and nutrient management planning, to calf rearing, feed efficiency and renewables opportunities.
Prepare for the new legislation
Agricultural consultant Lorna Galloway urged farmers to be prepared that measures such as carbon audits, soil sampling and nutrient management will soon become part of compliance with regulations, as changes in agricultural policy are fast-approaching.
“My advice to you is to get ahead of the curve and get to grips with the information you are going to be gathering before we are in a position where it is compulsory,” she said.
Measure what you have
Senior renewables consultant John Farquhar advised farmers to install an energy meter and measure what they have, before exploring what renewable options might fit their operation.
“The viability of installing solar PV is back and it is a win-win to dairy farmers who have high energy requirements, as it should lower energy costs and lower their carbon footprint,” he said.
Carbon-cutting additives not a silver bullet
Also discussed was a new emissions-reducing additive developed by Royal DSM – Bovaer – which has been found to reduce methane emissions in dairy cattle by 30%. As he spoke of Bovaer, SRUC dairy nutritionist professor John Newbold told farmers that feed additives would not be a ‘magic solution or silver bullet’ in reducing emissions but could be part of a wider set of tools in their armory.
Carbon mitigation over food production?
During another panel session in the afternoon which addressed the topic Science, Policy and Preparing for a Sustainable Future, dairy industry commentator Chris Walkland warned that dairy farmers could be pushed out of business, if future farming policy continues to favor carbon mitigation over food production.
He argued that there is too much focus on how many tons of carbon a farm produces, while ignoring other important outputs, such as how many families each farm feeds. He said: “If we carry on the direction of travel we are on now, we will know exactly how much carbon has gone in to making products that used to be on supermarket shelves, that aren’t there anymore because they have driven you all out of the industry and I think policy makers need to be aware of that.”
Agricultural economist Steven Thomson from SRUC said that dairy farmers were further down the track with implementing technical efficiencies than other farming systems and should be acknowledged for it. “As we have seen today at Culscadden, many dairy farmers are addressing soil compaction, methane production, feed efficiency ratios, calving at two years old, looking at reduced mortality levels, all of these elements help you reduce your carbon footprint and those are the types of measures that the Scottish government is looking at,” he said, adding that some of these would feature as future payment conditions.
“Many of you are already achieving these conditions which is why all the discussions I am having with the Scottish Government are about recognizing those that are already achieving. Historically, in policy terms, farmers got paid to change or improve, but it should be about you achieving.”