Farmers and landowners have experienced the hottest summer on record and we are now being warned of 'the worst winter in decades' with further meteorological challenges expected. Weather predictions can be unreliable (just ask Michael Fish), but there is now a strong consensus that there is an observable trend of climate change which will bring greater unpredictability and instability.
Building resilience is key to greater stability in a climate marked by variables. I read with interest Robert Gray’s Nuffield Farming Scholarships Trust Report on Profitable dairy farming in Scotland which highlights Scotland’s “considerable natural advantages: a high rainfall, a temperate climate, the right pH levels for optimum grass growing, no bovine TB problem, access to finance plus a comparatively reasonable land price”. Of course, changes in the weather impact directly on the first and second of these advantages. The challenges are familiar - lack of investment, difficulty in obtaining and negotiating milk contracts, and a shortage of processing companies and plant. But there are ideas to be had from other countries, such as New Zealand’s sharemilker contract scheme. A more general overview of alternative structures is given in the Tenant Farming Commissioner’s Guide to Joint Ventures with New Entrants which may be further food for thought.
Looking to diversification, forestry presents a particular opportunity for resilience-building. Trees are on the Scottish Government (and international) agenda as a key mitigator of climate change: the Forestry and Land Management (Scotland) Act 2018 places a duty on Scottish Ministers to promote sustainable forest management; and the Climate Change Plan and Forestry Strategy both set a target for increasing woodland cover to 21% (from around 18%) by 2032, with annual targets increasing from 10,000 to 15,000 hectares from 2018 to 2025. The grants currently available, and the fact that the focus on trees is likely to be sustained for the foreseeable future, offer a degree of economic certainty (even with the uncertainties of Brexit!) and this has been reflected in an upwards kick in land prices where there is afforestation potential.
This article appears in the Scottish Land & Business Summer 2019 issue.
You may also be interested in the Conservation on the Agenda article.