Farmer-led tree planting grows ‘key to net zero for Scotland’

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According to the Soil Association, a farmer-led tree planting revolution can make Scotland a global leader in sustainable and regenerative agriculture and help achieve the government’s net zero targets.

The Organic Farm Lobby staged an exhibition in the Scottish Parliament on Wednesday June 1, sponsored by Scottish Greens MSP Arianne Burgess, which brought together farmers and agroecological smallholders with policy makers.

The Transition to Agroecology in Scotland exhibition highlighted how agroforestry and agricultural woodland can produce 342,000 ha of new woodland by 2050. This could be done through agroforestry, or the integration of trees in arable land and livestock pasture, as well as increased agricultural woodland.

See also: How to plant the right tree in the right place on your farm

Farmers showed how they practice nature-friendly agriculture, reducing the use of agrochemicals and artificial nitrogen, integrating trees with livestock and crops, improving soil health and increasing biodiversity – while producing high quality and wellness foods to ensure their businesses remain viable.

The exhibit featured a video from Andrew Barbour’s farm in Perthshire showing how he managed to incorporate agroforestry and forests into his cattle farm.

A new study, Trees and woods in the agricultural landscape (PDF) by the Soil Association in collaboration with Cumulus Consultants, was unveiled at the event. This demonstrates how a farmer-led tree revolution can help achieve tree planting goals.

The Scottish Government has set a target to increase annual tree planting to 18,000ha per year by 2024 to mitigate climate change and achieve net zero targets. If it maintained that rate of tree planting through 2050, on-farm planting could account for 68% (or more than two-thirds) of that projected total.

Crucial role

Given that 80% of the total land area in Scotland is devoted to agricultural production, the report finds that farmers have a crucial role to play in achieving these tree planting targets.

Today a third of Scotland’s forests are on farms, around 546,000ha, but the Soil Association argues that agroforestry, or the integration of trees into arable land and livestock pasture, as well as that increasing agricultural woodland could see this increase by 342,000 ha by 2050.

The study suggests this could be achieved at an annual cost of £100m, which the lobby group says “seems realistic” compared to the £600m currently spent on farm support and the £150m million additional pounds allocated to “accelerate progress” of tree planting in the 2021-22 Program for the Government.

David McKay, Head of Policy at the Soil Association, said: “The government has set the ambition for Scotland to be a world leader in sustainable and regenerative agriculture.

“We align with their vision for agriculture and will present evidence of how agroecological and agroforestry farming practices can help achieve this goal in practice and, in doing so, restore nature, reduce agricultural emissions and to feed everyone healthy food.”

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