Futureproof your Farm Conversations: Summary

In May 2020, during the coronavirus lockdown, the Rural Innovation Support Service (RISS) held an online workshop called Futureproof your Farm: How to adapt your farm business to the Covid-19 and climate change crises.

Following conversations between members of the Scottish Apples and Net Zero Arran RISS groups, there were breakout discussions about the challenges and opportunities of adapting your business to Covid-19 and climate change. Discussions included:

  • How Covid has produced a real desire to do things differently
  • Nature-based solutions as an important element of future farming
  • Scottish farmers being able to tell the story of their environmental credentials
  • The need for peer-to-peer learning and connections with scientific research
  • A desire for two-way dialogue with policy makers

 

 

>Click here to read and listen to the Scottish Apples conversation

>Click here to read and listen to the Net Zero Arran conversation

People are seeing the opportunity right now to do things differently 

RISS lead Colleen McCulloch, farming programmes manager at Soil Association Scotland, hosted the workshop. Speaking afterwards, she said she had a strong feeling that Covid-19 had accelerated a desire for change amongst some farmers in Scotland and those they work with.

           

Picture: RISS lead Colleen McCulloch, farming programmes manager at Soil Association Scotland

Colleen said: “People were telling us they want to do business in a different way – whether that’s through the way they sell their products or by working with others differently. People are seeing the opportunity right now to do things better.

“There’s also big appetite coming through for natural solutions and what they might be able to offer.

“There’s a desire, like with the Net Zero Arran group, to be able to measure and quantify your environmental credentials, how low-carbon and nature-friendly you are, and translate that into marketing. People are interested in being able to tell the story of their product and what’s different about it.”

Click here to register interest in our Farmer Ambassador programme: free video training for nature-friendly farmers in Scotland 

Emily Grant is an independent agricultural consultant and farmer, and she facilitated two Futureproof breakout discussion groups about biodiversity. Speaking afterwards she agreed that a desire for nature-based solutions came through strongly.

Picture: Agricultural consultant Emily Grant, who farms near Perth

She said: “In my group we had a range of farm types represented - from crofting to potatoes. A common theme was their interest in nature-based solutions to tackle some of the challenges ahead. For potatoes, growers could see the need to reduce tillage and chemical inputs, but also to tackle blight, including in organic potatoes where copper for blight control is under pressure. If your armoury of chemicals is disappearing, then you need to look towards nature-based solutions. It would be great to see testing of those solutions.”

A lot of regenerative agriculture is happening bottom-up

That testing however, needs to go beyond “the guys cracking on and experimenting”, and involve connecting farmers with each other and with the science to make it robust. “A lot of regenerative agriculture is happening bottom up, which is great, but it would be strengthened by having more robust science behind it. There are always early adopters and, as David Henderson says, as farmers we love to sit and watch others having a go. So we need more farmer-to farmer-learning, which is about connecting people, and connecting them with the science. This is something RISS can be a vehicle for.”

Picture: Futureproofing for the next generation. Bryce Cunningham and his son at Mossgiel Farm, Ayrshire

The six discussion facilitators fed back from their groups and what follows is a summary of the challenges and opportunities of responding to Covid-19, climate change and biodiversity loss, and a list of ideas for potential RISS groups that emerged.

Opportunities of responding to Covid-19, climate change and biodiversity loss:

  • Resurgence of local food - huge increase in demand for local and organic produce, for example veg boxes
  • Potential for farmers to do their own processing and smaller batches to become the norm rather than everyone selling to big wholesalers
  • Mindset shift towards improving efficiencies, reducing carbon emissions, and rethinking the way things are ‘traditionally’ done on many farms. Real shift towards environmental sustainability but given tight margins in agriculture, it must still be profitable
  • More co-operation, both formally and informally, right along the food supply chain
  • Collaboration over logistics and distribution (e.g. establishing local food hubs)

 

Challenges of responding to Covid-19, climate change and biodiversity loss:

  • Farmers having the capacity to upscale or sell direct
  • Skills gaps such as marketing
  • Funding gaps eg. premises, equipment for processing etc.
  • Logistics and distribution – should farmers also be delivery drivers? Hubs becoming important
  • Need for greater two-way dialogue between farmers, growers and crofters and cession-makers
  • With advice on climate change and greening, we need better translation of advice into practical, measurable on-farm actions
  • There’s a real need for better access to local and small-scale abattoirs for small meat producers
  • There’s a need to ensure authenticity along supply chain
  • We need to change attitudes to public procurement (to encourage it as a route to sell produce)

 

New RISS group ideas:

  1. Developing a blueprint for direct- selling hubs – to pool marketing and distribution costs and services amongst groups of small producers
  2. Developing the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) model beyond veg boxes e.g. selling shares in a product at the start of the season
  3. Collaboration between small producers and restaurants and other tourist outlets over the environmental credentials of a high-end product   
  4. Intercropping in potato crops  
  5. Using farmer input to fine tune soil carbon sequestration module in Agrecalc
  6. Involving the supply chain in future agri-environment schemes
  7. Connecting allotments and local farms
  8. Using community gardens and/or CSAs to give access to land, develop horticulture skills and create non-traditional products
  9. Addressing the need for access to more local and small-scale abattoirs

 

Other RISS ideas currently in development that you could get involved in:

  1. Agroforestry - email Poppy Frater
  2. Egg producers – sharing layer hen technical information and best practice – email Hamish Walls
  3. Scottish pulse supply chain – mapping the landscape and developing a supply chain for Scottish pulses – email Ana Allamand
  4. Connecting with consumers: what additional value will consumers expect from regenerative agriculture? – email Emily Grant
  5. Developing nature-based solutions: improving soil health through ideas such as foliar feeding incorporating carbon sources, using compost teas and growing multi-species leys – email Emily Grant
  6. Cover crops – role in soil improvement – email Iain Riddell
  7. Organic potatoes and climate change (particularly blight control) – email Iain Riddell
  8. Making better use of sheep data records – email Iain Riddell

 >Click here to contact us if you have an idea for a RISS group 

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