Are Scottish Animal Farmers Open To Change?
It is high time to reduce the environmental impact of our food system. Research consistently shows that animal agriculture produces toxic greenhouse gases and requires an enormous amount of land and natural resources to create a small proportion of human calories. The authors of this report join the chorus of other scholars who argue that food production would be more efficient by removing animals and shifting to a plant-based system.
In Scotland, however, at least 86% of farmland is classified as challenging to grow crops for human consumption. Currently, much of this land is used for animal grazing, while 49% of the country’s cropland is used to grow animal feed. This report suggests that transitioning Scotland to more environmentally-friendly farming practices (e.g., “rewilding” grazing land to capture carbon and growing plants for human consumption) is not only possible but necessary to protect against climate change.
According to the authors, the Scottish animal farming industry gives the impression that they are attached to tradition. This image is reinforced by media narratives, as well as the National Farmers Union’s goal to reach net zero emissions by 2040 without cutting animal protein production. However, rather than relying on third-party information, the goal of this study was to learn from Scottish farmers themselves. How do they feel about shifting away from meat and dairy production, and what would encourage them to change?
The authors surveyed 51 Scottish farmers either online or in person. Initially, they collected information about their farms and their willingness to change their farming practices for four distinct reasons: to reduce climate change, to meet consumer preferences, to improve Scotland’s food supply, or to ensure their financial security. Afterward, they were shown an informational video about current farming challenges and three potential solutions: growing crops for human consumption, repurposing land through carbon capture, and diversifying into “non-traditional” agriculture practices. Finally, a second questionnaire examined whether their willingness to change had been affected by the video.
Most respondents worked in sheep and cow farming, but a small group had no farmed animals or were looking to reduce their animal supply due to cost, workload, and/or ethical reasons. Some farmers noted that they would like to shift away from animal farming, but the Scottish government’s subsidy system only supports farmers who raise animals. Nevertheless, around half of the respondents were already taking steps to diversify their farms, and 92% had some form of climate protection measures in place (e.g., using solar panels, crop rotation, or mulching).
The results from the pre-video questionnaire showed that 86% of farmers were willing to change their practices to reduce climate change — watching the video increased farmers’ willingness to engage in any specific mitigation effort by an average of 35%. Following the video, around 70% of farmers also said they would be at least somewhat willing to grow crops for human consumption, rewild “unfavorable” farming land, or try non-traditional agriculture practices with a financial incentive. At least 80% of farmers reported “yes” or “maybe” for each of the four motivators to change, including slowing climate change, protecting Scotland’s food supply, safeguarding their financial security, or satisfying Scottish consumers.
The results suggest that, despite what the media and farmers’ unions are suggesting, Scottish animal farmers aren’t necessarily against making changes to their current practices. The key factor is money: Respondents said they need subsidies and financial incentives from the government to shift away from raising animals. Many emphasized that they’re currently waiting for more guidance from the government on how to proceed on these issues. At the end of the survey, 63% also requested more information or support about alternative farming practices.
Given the positive feedback from farmers, there are many opportunities for animal advocates to get involved in this issue. Legal advocates can work with the Scottish government to change the subsidy system and provide funding to better support farmers trying to transition away from animal farming. Farmers will also need transparent education, communication, and advisory support as they try to make these changes. Finally, advocates can focus on increasing public awareness around locally-grown crops to help encourage consumers to support their domestic farmers.