Survey Publication-01

Thriving beyond the protein transition: Farmer and crofter receptiveness to stockfree land management
The need to reduce meat and dairy consumption as a climate change mitigation measure has been widely researched and acknowledged. Curtailing the production of these products has been discussed in terms of the shift from rearing animals for food to growing plant-proteins for human consumption. In Scotland, however, where 86% of agricultural land comes under the category of Less Favoured Area (compared to just 18% in England), growing crops suitable for human consumption can prove challenging or even completely impracticable. What economically viable options do Scottish farmers and crofters have to survive the protein transition and is there any openness to adopting these measures? A qualitative, predominantly on-farm survey conducted amongst Scottish farmers and crofters assessed their willingness to shift to one or more of three livestock alternatives depending on the capability of their land: growing crops for human consumption; rewilding permanent and rough grazing land; and diversifying into non-traditional agricultural initiatives. Contrary to the industry’s media-driven image of adherence to tradition and reactionary neophobia, the majority of participants expressed a willingness to change their farming practice with the proviso of financial support; even the shift away from livestock farming altogether. Specific recommendations are given for the Government to repurpose existing support schemes and to implement new measures that reduce sector emissions, optimise land use, support nature recovery, augment food security, and reinvigorate rural economies.
British agriculture is in crisis. The climate emergency, the UK’s departure from the European Union, the Covid-19 pandemic, and now Russia’s war with the Ukraine have combined to expose the stark vulnerability of our food system. The title of DEFRA’s 2021 leaflet “Farming is Changing”1 now seems like a grim, off-key prophecy as soaring prices and plummeting availability of the four F’s (food, fuel, feed, and fertiliser) pull the rug of food-security out from under decades of complacency2.
Farmers reportedly had to skimp on fertiliser this spring, winter feed stocks will be low, livestock might have to be destroyed, and a lack of seasonal workers has meant that crops have rotted in the fields3, 4.
Yet, leaving the urban sprawl behind, all looks well in England’s – and the devolved administrations’ – green and pleasant land. Lambs charge around fields in energetic gangs, cows leisurely graze, cereals grow higher by the day, and Range Rovers still congregate in car ports. This may be the calm before the storm, but it looks remarkably like business-as-usual. Is farming really changing?
The tragic war in the Ukraine is but the final word in the call to change that has been increasingly heard, and largely ignored, over the past decade: we must reduce the environmental impact of our food system. We must shift from resource-heavy, import dependent, ecologically destructive production to more resilient systems that produce food with greater efficiency and in harmony with the natural world.

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