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Scotland's Climate Change Adaptation Framework - Agriculture




With a future of generally warmer weather, drier summers and wetter winters, Scottish agriculture may experience positive change in some cases ( e.g. longer growing season), and negative in others ( e.g. lower quality), including an increased risk of extreme event damage ( e.g. droughts or floods).

Along with elevated CO 2 levels, warmer temperatures will increase growth rates for grasses and arable crops. This may lead to higher yields for existing crops, plus the possibility of new crops becoming viable in Scotland as the northern limit of their range extends. However, increased growth rates do not necessarily lead to higher yields if other factors are constrained. In particular, warmer temperatures and lower summer rainfall may lead to heat and soil moisture stress, reducing growth. Equally, faster growth by itself can reduced yield quality, with grain failing to fill properly and grass digestibility falling unless grazed or cut sooner.

The distribution of weeds, pests and disease may also alter - just as they have been observed to change over the last 20 years. Whilst some problems may become less prevalent in Scotland, there are fears that milder winters will fail to kill some existing pathogens and insect vectors, and that warmer summers may introduce new threats.

Water availability may become a problem for livestock but heat stress can also directly inhibit feed intake and breeding. Higher winter rainfall and intense summer rainfall may lead to reduced field access and possible flood damage. Conversely, extended dry periods improve the opportunities for access to land, for both field operations and livestock grazing. Livestock may also face new diseases such as West Nile virus, or an increased prevalence of bluetongue or parasitic worms with warmer and wetter conditions.

The commercial effect of local influences on crop and livestock productivity may be amplified or dampened by market-level effects arising from the influence of climate change on agricultural output elsewhere. For example, harvest failures in lower latitude countries may boost commodity prices, favouring regions such as Scotland where productivity may be less adversely affected. Yet equally, increased volatility of global commodity markets arising from exposure to climatic shocks may hinder effective farm planning. 1


Supporting adaptation at an institutional level

The impacts of climate change on agriculture in Scotland may be minimal if appropriate adaptation strategies are adopted. Beyond autonomous farm-level adjustments, there is a need to consider what additional guidance, information and support is necessary to support the agricultural sector, particularly in the longer term. The objective is a sector which remains stable, productive and profitable in the face of climate change, and where environmental considerations support responsive, and responsible farming practice.

There is a role for institutional-level planning by government, agencies and NGOs in looking ahead to anticipate emerging situations and seeking to identify appropriate responses. This may take a number of forms, including support for agricultural research and development and knowledge transfer activities to identify, cost and promote adaptation options with particular attention to the provision of information and the capacity of farmers to respond. This is particularly important since the impact of climate change depends jointly upon the nature of that change but also how it is reacted to.

Increasing awareness and adaptation at the farm-level

Unlike many mitigation options, farm-level adaptation will tend to happen autonomously since there are private incentives for farmers to adapt, and this is what they do (and have always done) in the face of myriad external pressures ( e.g. technical innovation, policy signals and market prices). However, a recent survey by Farming Futures found that while 20% of farmers and land managers cite new crop opportunities as a benefit of warming, fewer than 2% anticipate increased pests and disease - despite, for example, the spread of Bluetongue which is directly linked to climate change. 2 The Scottish Government and farming industry organisations must work with the sector to increase awareness of the ability to minimise the negative impacts of climate change and to capitalise on the opportunities presented with appropriate adaptation.

Taking a broader, land-use perspective

Some farmland may offer opportunities to respond to flood and drought risks through water and wetland management. Equally, some habitat adjustment and the dispersal of wildlife species could be supported through different forms of land management. Such adaptation beyond the farm-gate may require better integration between currently separate policy areas such as agriculture, forestry, flooding and biodiversity. Policy attention needs to focus on how to encourage the take up of mitigation and adaptation measures which can both benefit the business resilience of the agricultural sector, and which can deliver climate change and other environmental objectives.


Farming in Scotland

Adaptive responses will need to reflect the diversity of farming activity which exists in Scotland. The Scottish Government has established an Agriculture and Climate Change Stakeholder Group to advise on how the sector can adapt to climate change, and implement mitigation measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Targeted advice and guidance on climate change issues is already available through the Scotland Rural Development Programme ( SRDP) Skills Development Programme and the Public Good Advisory Contract which operates between the Scottish Government and the Scottish Agricultural College. Against stated criteria, financial support is also available through SRDP Rural Priorities to support climate change related activities within the farm-gate.

Through these actions, and continued support for essential research into better understanding how climate change may impact on Scottish agriculture, the Scottish Government will work with the sector to identify, develop and implement appropriate adaptation measures.

Land use

In addition, the Land Use Strategy, which will report in 2011, will provide a key context for future considerations on relevant adaptation strategies for agriculture, and rural land use in general.



Who Delivers


Understand the consequences of a changing climate


Determining agricultural research and development priorities

Work to identify priorities for research to support Scottish Farmers in adapting to anticipated changes to climate change.

SG, other research funders, and stakeholders



Providing downscaled climate models

Downscaling and testing of regional climate models to identify impacts on farm systems; development of agro-meteorological indicators.

This will be funded within the Scottish Government strategic research programme 2006-1


Ongoing to March 2011


Adapting to Climate Change Skills Programme

The programme aims to equip farmers and land managers with the skills and knowledge to plan for and adapt to climate change, and focuses on a range of seminars and knowledge transfer events.


Ongoing to April 2012

The Scotland Rural Development Programme ( SRDP) will provide £151,294(75% of total costs) over 3 years.

Soil Association Scotland


Farming for a Better Climate

A website with supporting information, guidance and seminar programme to support farmers. It focuses on measures which can be taken on farm to support business productivity and deliver Scottish Government climate change objectives (win-wins). Currently targeted towards mitigation issues, the website will develop further resources on adaptation over time. The Scottish Government is providing £80,000 per annum for this project.



Scottish Agricultural College


Integrate adaptation into public policy and regulation


Scottish Rural Development Programme ( SRDP) 2014-2020

Consider role of SRDP in supporting climate change objectives



2014 onwards

SG = Scottish Government; EU = European Union.

1 Climate change and Scottish agriculture: Report and recommendations of the Agriculture and Climate Change Stakeholder Group see: www.scotland.gov.uk
2 For further information on Farming Futures see: www.farmingfutures.org.uk/