A COALITION of environmental groups are demanding radical changes to decades-old Scottish Government system of funding for farming, while it emerged the proportion of greenhouse gas emissions coming from agriculture has risen.

Official analysis seen by the Herald shows that despite efforts to combat climate change in 2020 18.5% of greenhouse gas emissions were attributed to agriculture - up from 15.69% in 2019.

It comes as Scottish Environment LINK (SEL) says farming funding should be replaced with one that "works for nature, climate and people" saying the current system is failing to help protect and restore Scotland’s nature and wildlife or tackle climate change.

While the Scottish government spends more than half a billion pounds on farm funding every year, the groups are concerned that only a small proportion is directed at helping farmers and crofters achieve meaningful environmental outcomes.

Their separate analysis shows that in 2019 the Scottish Government spent £457 million on direct payments to farmers, but of this just 7% (£22m) was devoted to Agri-Environment, Climate Scheme and Rural Priorities schemes where applicants bring forward coherent projects to enhance biodiversity.

In 2020, agriculture produced 7.4 metric tonnes equivalent (MtCO2e) of CO2, just 0.1 MtCO2e down from 2019 and 2018 - while action is being taken to tackle climate change and meet stiff Scottish Government targets.

Methane was the main gas emitted from farms at 4.1 MtCO2e followed by nitrous oxide (2.2).

Farming is also one of the top three sources of net climate emissions in Scotland behind domestic transport (9.5) and business (7.8) and ahead of residential properties (6).


SEL, a coalition of over 40 environmental groups including RSPB Scotland, WWF, the Scottish Wildlife Trust, Friends of the Earth Scotland and the Marine Conservation Society says there now needs to be a new farm funding system where at least three quarters of the spend directly supporting methods that restore nature and tackle climate change.

"We need a new farm funding system that helps farmers and crofters reduce chemical and pesticide use, adopt low carbon farming methods, make space for nature by creating woodlands, hedgerows and wildflower rich grasslands - and much more," the coalition said.

They say that the direct payments to farmers are a "badly designed" form of income support and do not help to address the climate emergy and "offer poor value for public money".

And while farmers are vital to Scotland's future, managing three quarters of Scotland's land, say current methods are a "major source of greenhouse emissions and wildlife loss" while the funding is not helping them tackle climate change.

"The government must re-distribute the budget so that more funding is directed towards supporting transformation in the industry. We urgently need a shift to nature-friendly farming to build resilient farm businesses that produce healthy food while addressing the nature and climate emergency and government funding is essential," the coalition said.

But they also say that the funding system is stacked against smaller farmers and crofters which are more beneficial to the environment.

While support payments are important in Scottish agriculture because an estimated 37% of farms make a profit without them, the coalition have raised concerns that payments do not require proof of income or profitability, but are related to land area instead.

They say it is possible for those making profits to claim in the same way as those making losses.

Their analysis warns that the system is designed in such a way that the largest businesses with the largest land areas get the most support, not those most in need of income support.

Their analysis of Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs payment data for 2021 shows there were 19,263 claimants of agricultural and rural development financial support, and of that total 17,725 claimed ‘direct farm support.


The top 20% of claimants (3545) receive 62% of the budget. At the other end of the scale, the bottom 40% of claimants only receive 5% of the budget.

SEL says that their analysis shows that the majority of funding is not going support farming systems that are most valuable to nature.

"The current farm payments system has a long history which has primarily focused on supporting our food production capacity," SEL said.

"Most support has ended up being targeted at the more productive farming areas, where profitable farming is more likely," the coalition said.

"Meanwhile, large areas of Scotland – where making a living from farming is more difficult – receive little financial support.

"Scotland has extensive High Nature Value (HNV) farming areas where farming is in greatest harmony with nature and the balance between food production and the environment is most closely achieved. HNV farming and crofting systems are beneficial for wildlife because they are low input-low output types of farming.

Increasingly, attention is focused on the wide range of ecosystem services that land can deliver and not just food production. This requires a farm payment regime better designed than what we have currently in order to incentivise and drive the delivery of ecosystem services across the whole country."

The coalition has organised a petition calling for the changes to be included in a new post-Brexit Agriculture Bill that will underpin Scottish agricultural policy for generations to come. A consultation over the bill is due to close on December 5.

In 2020, legislation was enacted to allow the Scottish ministers to ensure that EU Common Agricultural Policy payments and schemes would continue for a period of stability and simplicity after EU-exit.


According to the Scottish Government's consultation on the new bill, it aims to provide Scotland with a framework to support and work with farmers and crofters to meet "more of our food needs sustainably and to farm and croft with nature" and aims to change the way farmers are paid.

It adds:"To ensure that Scotland's people are able to live and work sustainably on our land, this framework will deliver high quality food production, climate mitigation and adaptation, nature protection and restoration, and wider rural development."

Two weeks ago, a group of crofters and small farmers gathered outside Holyrood to demand more support from the bill.

Organised by the Landworkers’ Alliance and supported by a number of other groups, concerned farmers set up stalls outside the Scottish Parliament to discuss policy issues with MSPs.

The Landworkers’ Alliance say that as payments to farmers would be made on a basis of hectares of land farmed, the Government’s agricultural scheme “essentially uses public money to reward people for owning large amounts of land”.

The group also says that the system “offers little to no support” for small-scale agriculture, pointing out that the land threshold to qualify for the payment scheme is three hectares, which is more than the 1-hectare requirement under the EU scheme.

They said: “We urgently need a payment system which is not based on how much land farmers have access to, and which properly values and rewards small-scale farmers and crofters for the essential role they play in the transition to climate-friendly agriculture and the development of a local, sustainable food system in Scotland."

NFU Scotland director of policy Jonnie Hall said: “Last week’s #FoodNeedsAFarmer rally outside the Scottish Parliament, attended by hundreds of Scottish farmers and crofters, shone a spotlight on the need for future policy to have food production at its heart. That was a point recognised by many of the 40 MSPs who attended our rally and asked questions during this week’s statement on future agricultural policy by Cabinet Secretary Mairi Gougeon.

“We welcome the Cabinet Secretary’s recognition that supporting the nation’s farmers and crofters to sustainably produce healthy, local food will also provide solutions to addressing climate change and enhancing nature.

“Scottish agriculture is facing some extreme challenges and the whole industry is seeking certainty and confidence. In our opinion, the proposals offer little to suggest agricultural activity and production will be championed in a way that will continue to underpin the rural economy, rural communities and the food and drink sector as well as having a critical role in tackling climate and biodiversity issues.

"What is missing is what farmers and crofters will be expected to do in the future if they are to unlock all the support likely to be available. Farming and crofting are long term businesses and gearing up for 2025 needs to start now."