04 September 2023
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Nature-friendly farming keeping farmers in the green
New research out today  predicts extreme weather events are likely to become more common as our climate warms, with farmers bearing the brunt of the impacts in their pockets.
‘The Impact of Extreme Weather on Scottish Agriculture’ commissioned by WWF Scotland shows that increased prolonged periods of hot, dry weather dramatically risk the profitability of Scottish farms, but by adopting nature-friendly farming practices this can be avoided. Activities like reducing synthetic fertiliser use, increasing crop rotations, and reducing tillage enhances soil health and fertility while increasing biodiversity. The modelling makes clear that by introducing these and other measures, most farm businesses can remain profitable and resilient to the frequency of extreme weather events caused by climate change.
The report found:
On beef farms, extreme weather is estimated to reduce farm net profit by 12%. However, including regenerative practices has a very positive impact on net profit, almost entirely removing the negative impact of extreme weather.
On dairy farms net profit is estimated to drop by 19%, but the inclusion of nature-friendly practices allowed farms to decrease losses on farms, with extreme weather projected to reduce farm net profit by only 12%.
On sheep farms losses are estimated of 36% in farm net profit under the extreme weather scenario. These farms show less reduction in farm net profit (-22%) when nature-friendly practices are adopted on farms compared to when no such practices are adopted.
On mixed farms a reduction of 15% on their farm net profit on average is estimated. These farms are projected to reduce their losses with only 6% reduction to their farm net profit when nature-friendly practices are followed on farms.
- Arable farms are projected to have the largest reduction in their net profit, on average of 39%. The nature-friendly practices identified for arable crops have higher implementation costs and so are estimated to reduce farm net profits further up to -46%.
The findings underscore why support from both the Scottish Government and private sector will be so critical in making sure that the transition to climate and nature-friendly farming is managed and fair and supports resilient businesses and thriving rural communities.
Already this decade Scotland has experienced several extreme weather events including Storm Barra and Storm Arwen, alongside heavier and more persistent rain. Last summer, Scotland experienced record-breaking temperatures and drought with significant water scarcity leading to SEPA suspending abstraction licenses in catchments across the country for the first time. This highlights the need for continued Government support to ensure a fair and managed transition to a more nature friendly farming future. 
Ruth Taylor, Agriculture and Land Use Policy Manager at WWF Scotland:
“We know Scottish farmers and crofters are key to solving the twin nature and climate crises. Despite a cooler summer this year, this report shows that the measures land managers can adopt are a win-win, for their businesses and for nature and the climate. Those managing the land are already feeling the impacts of climate change, but by adopting nature and climate-friendly farming measures, farmers can be part of the solution to climate change while making their businesses much more resilient in the face of extreme weather events. This is why leadership from the Scottish Government in delivering ambitious farm policy is more important than ever.
Case study: Balbirnie Home Farm, Fife
Has your business been impacted by weather related events in the past 5 years?
Balbirnie farm has not really experienced drought but certainly had spells where it was warmer than usual or expected. The farm has experienced flooding in certain areas and there is the potential for field drains to become overwhelmed and overflow. However, all our fields have cover and so we didn’t experience any soil loss and luckily our cattle were not affected as we had already started mob grazing by then - our infiltration rates are generally ok, and our cattle got moved quicker due to the ground being wet. Increased ground cover, cover cropping, and giving ground time to rest leads to the soil being able to hold on to moisture and increases its capacity to cope with wet periods.
Since we started with mob grazing and giving ground time to rest, we’ve noticed that our grass grows quickly and our fields stay greener for longer, probably as they can access moisture for longer.
It’s too early to tell whether the investments made (fencing and animal supplies to enable animals on fields = big cost) will pay back, but I definitely feel and see that the farm is more resilient and moving towards reducing tilling has helped that.
What regenerative practices have you introduced on your farm?
Regenerative agriculture is not a set of practices but is overarching principles. Just because you plough a field once in six or eight years, doesn’t mean you’re not regenerative. For example, mob grazing is just a practice than allows you to fulfil the principles of regenerative agriculture. I do feel that there’s sufficient information and knowledge available on regenerative agriculture, but it’s down to the individual to look for it.
How do you feel that changing weather patterns will impact agriculture in Scotland over the next 10 years? What do you think the biggest threat to Scottish agriculture will be over the next 10 years?
There are many challenges for farm businesses, in particular how to further reduce the use of synthetic inputs and findings ways to reach net zero. Future farm industry challenges are to ensure that the subsidies get to the right people and businesses. There are a lot of exceptionally good farmers that pull the national average up, however, there are still some not willing to engage and are not practicing good conventional farming. At the moment its propping up an industry where some are not doing their bit.
We can’t predict the future, but we should invest the time to be prepared for variable weather.
Johnnie Balfour, from Balbirnie Home Farms said:
“Like most farmers, we want and need to make our business more resilient. The nature-friendly farming methods we have already adopted, such as mob grazing, direct drilling and reducing our inputs has allowed us to cope with our changing climate by managing water use and helping to maintain nutrients within our soils. This not only helps our bottom line but is encouraging more nature back to the farm which is great to see.”
Roddy McLean, Director of Agriculture at the Royal Bank of Scotland, said:
“Over the past decade, we have seen more extreme weather events like storms, drought, excessive rainfall and flooding become more common in Scotland, with a range of negative consequences for farm businesses and food production. However, this report shows it doesn’t have to be this way, and if farmers were given the investment and support they need to adopt nature-friendly practices, their farms could improve their resilience to unpredictable weather events and boost their profitability over the longer term.
“At RBS, we understand that sustainability, productivity and profitability in the agricultural sector go hand in hand. That’s why, in partnership with WWF, we’re working to bring together key players across the sector to channel and scale public and private investment to support farmers to move to a more climate and nature-friendly farming. We’ve committed* £6.7 billion of total funding to agriculture to date, and we will continue standing side by side with farmers to give them the support they need to invest in their transition.”
Notes to Editors
 The Impact of Extreme Weather on Scottish Agriculture The impact of extreme weather events on Scottish agriculture (wwf.org.uk)
 Met office data https://www.metoffice.gov.uk/weather/learn-about/weather/types-of-weather/storms
 WWF Scotland report on extreme weather https://www.wwf.org.uk/sites/default/files/2021-04/Impact%20of%20extreme%20weather%20on%20Scottish%20Farmers%202018%20FINAL.pdf