Ethical Farming conference organisers call on @ScotGov to ‘lead the way’


Against the backdrop of an industry resistant to change, a new conference on 16 May will explore sustainable models for Scottish farming

  • New ethical farming conference follows Scottish Government announcement of a new initiative to drive low-carbon, sustainable farming practices
  • Conference organiser argues that targeted subsidies for ethical farming could be more effective than legislation
  • We need more independent research so that we are clear on what is needed for Scotland to fight climate change, argues Rainton Farm’s Wilma Finlay

ONE of the organisers behind an upcoming conference on ethical farming has called for greater use of targeted subsidies to encourage a sustainable food system in Scotland, as well as more independent research on Scotland’s specific role in fighting climate change.

The Ethical Farming conference – a collaborative event co-hosted by the Ethical Dairy, Peelham Farm, Whitmuir Organic and Mossgiel Farm, and funded in part by the Scottish Government-supported Connect Local Regional Food Fund – will take place at Rainton Farm on 16 May, and aims to map out environmentally friendly, sustainable ways forward for Scottish farming.

The conference follows this week’s announcement by the Scottish Government of a new farmer-led initiative to drive low-carbon, sustainable farming practices in Scotland under reforms to the Farming For a Better Climate (FFBC) programme, which will be established “to trail and develop ideas on farms which could provide practical, innovative solutions to help climate change mitigation.”

Ahead of the conference, organisers David and Wilma Finlay of Rainton Farm published an open letter which argued against what they describe as “powerful, vested interests who are demonising all beef and dairy,” and made the case for a new sustainable approach to Scottish farming that goes against the “intensification agenda” of many farming industry representatives.

“Whether it’s the chemical industry, farming industry, plastics, there has to be some kind of financial disincentive to be using things that are harming the climate and the planet.” Ethical Farming organiser Wilma Finlay

The letter states: “In Scotland, government and farmers like us should be natural allies in furthering a future approach to farming that works with our natural assets; pioneering a pasture-based, regenerative approach that is as sustainable as it is productive. 

“If the industry’s policy representatives stick with their current agenda of intensification in a country that excels at natural, pasture based systems, it will place our WHOLE industry in the frame as a health and climate liability.”

Speaking to CommonSpace, Wilma Finlay said: “We’re definitely a minority in British farming, but the support is growing. It’s like organic [farming] – organic has always been a minority, and viewed as such within the UK, although not so much in Europe. So, to suggest we should be progressing and developing that – which is responding to a fairly significant market within the UK – is not something that a lot of people want to hear.”

Asked whether she felt either the Scottish Government or the Scottish farming industry needed to revise its approach to creating a more sustainable and environmentally friendly system, Finlay said: “I actually think the Scottish Government are closer to us than the farming industry, in as much as they have so many challenges ahead of them – with regards to climate change, biodiversity loss, reducing antibiotic usage… All of those issues that they have to look at with a long-term view, and not just ‘Am I going to get elected in a few years?’ So they’re having to address that responsibly, and at the same time, with the industry trying to hold onto the reins and saying: ‘No, don’t go in that direction.’”

READ MORE: Alex Scrivener: It’s time for a UK agricultural policy that doesn’t subsidise the rich

Finlay also feels that the Scottish Government should be more aggressive in its support for ethical farming through the use of targeted subsidies: “I think the government has much more power than they think they have, because farmers will change. The government’s in charge of how the whole subsidy funding is controlled, and farmers will follow the money. They will kick and scream so that it’s not changed, but at the end of the day if it is changed, they will find ways to follow that money. So there is a huge influence there that they [the Scottish Government] are in control of.

“[Targeted subsidies] seem to be the way the EU is going, that the UK is talking about going, and that Scotland says it wants to go as well. It’s just whether there is real substance behind that, or whether it is watered down considerably because the industry doesn’t want to change. And it’s not just the farming industry, it’s every industry that doesn’t want to change to tackle climate change or biodiversity loss or whatever – because we’re human beings and we don’t like change. So, that’s what the government should be doing – leading the way, rather than just responding to people who don’t want to change.”

However, Finlay does not necessarily believe that new legislation would be necessary in order to make Scottish farming more sustainable, or bring it in line with Scotland’s new emissions targets: “I’m never a great fan of legislation. I always go back to money.”

Referring to the recent United Nations global assessment by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Service (IPBES), which emphasised how much the human race relies upon the natural world for survival, Finlay continues: “The report that came out at the start of this week – basically, they were saying biodiversity is as important as climate change, and we’ve got to look much more at [making sure] the polluter pays, in any industry.

READ MORE: Our food system is broken – here’s how to take it back

“Whether it’s the chemical industry, farming industry, plastics, there has to be some kind of financial disincentive to be using things that are harming the climate and the planet. So you don’t necessarily need laws, you just need to put in a charge. Take the 5p charge for a plastic bag, and see how many Scots stopped using plastic bags. Of course there’ll be those calling it the nanny state, but maybe we need a bit of nannying to make sure we have a planet in the future that’s habitable by humans.”

Asked if the views of Scottish farming are being listened to enough by the Scottish Government during the recent public discussions of combating climate change, Finlay said: “I think there needs to be a wide range of input, because there’s different takes on the evidence. There needs to be more evidence-gathering as well. It’s large corporations funding the research at the moment.

“10 or 15 years ago, there was a report called ‘Livestock’s Long Shadow’, which said that cows were more polluting than transport. That was discredited within 12 months, and they withdrew some of the comments that they had in the report, but it’s still being quoted. We need more independent research so that we are clear on what is needed for Scotland – because it’s not the same thing that will be needed worldwide.”

Picture courtesy of Andrew Ballantyne

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