Futureproof your Farm Conversations: Net Zero Arran

This conversation took place online as part of a Rural Innovation Support Service (RISS) workshop in May 2020 called Futureproof your Farm: Adapting your farm business to the Covid-19 and climate crises.

Sheep farmer David Henderson of Kilpatrick Farm on Arran and facilitator Alexander Pirie of SAC Consulting talk about their Net Zero Arran RISS group, which is trying to quantify and then reduce the island’s carbon footprint. RISS lead Colleen McCulloch, of Soil Association Scotland, hosts the chat. Read or listen below as they discuss:

  • How the group brings together many different parties on the island
  • How Covid is a new spur for group activity
  • The difference between older and younger farmers’ attitudes to environmental issues
  • The potential to turn environmental credentials into profitability
  • Getting farmers to talk to each other!


Coming together to boost Arran's environmental credentials

David Henderson: I got into the group through Alexander Pirie and the Beef Efficiency Scheme (BES). He was doing our carbon audit and he wanted to start an island-based group with all the farmers and other businesses to compare audits and see where we can improve.

We had our first meeting in January then Covid put everything on hold, although we were saying it’s a good time to start up again, so we can look at ways round that too. We supply our local butcher with lambs and he’s five minutes away, but because there are no tourists here now his business has fallen off. We’ve had to sell lambs through the local market and that’s not been as good a return for us.

Alexander Pirie: The group’s initial idea was broad – we founded it by bringing different interest groups together. Those in the BES who were interested in seeing how they could use the data, special interest groups like Taste of Arran and Eco Savvy, other clients on the island historically involved in landscape-scale conservation, smaller farms keen to get involved in the larger community. So it’s about bringing those different interests together to quantify the island’s carbon footprint then have a collaborative vision for how we tackle common issues. Net Zero is the aspiration.

The generation gap in carbon auditing

Colleen McCulloch: Were lots of people already using Agrecalc [SAC Consulting’s carbon auditing tool]?

AP:  Those in the BES were, and smaller farms and new entrants have been very interested in seeing what the baseline is. They will use it as a set of carbon accounts – they want to review emissions in the same way they review farm finance.

Picture: David Henderson on his farm on Arran

DH: It’s significant that new entrants are interested – the older generation of farmers doesn’t want to get involved in carbon audits. New entrants are more interested in the environmental stuff.

Climate change and profitability

AP:  There are some examples of being able to get a higher price because of environmental credentials, such as First Milk or Muller – they’re working to develop that. In the south of England SAC is working with banks and companies, looking at how Agrecalc can be made accessible. It’s definitely the direction of travel.

DH: Since the group’s meeting I’ve been approached by someone in the petrochemical industry abut a new additive you can put in engines that reduces emissions and improves performance. It was someone in Dubai, who hadn’t thought of trying it in the agricultural sector. It’s going to be picking up on things like that.

AP: In terms of identifying key areas with the largest scope for improvements across the entire group we’ve already identified the use of inorganic fertiliser, so we’ll be developing a strategy for soil sampling. Fuel usage is another big issue, we might take a look at that.

CM: Is collaboration an important element for the group?

DH: The problem with farmers is they don’t communicate with each other! Going to these meetings and laying your cards on the table is great – the good and the bad. Letting folk look at your business can be better, because they can see it from the outside. That’s going to make a big difference to us going forward. We’re also looking at setting up a buyers’ group to work together on sourcing.

CM: Will you incorporate fruit and veg growers? And renewables?

AP: There are a couple of fruit and veg growers on the island so yes, we’ll be looking at how to incorporate them. We have mainly beef and sheep farmers for now. One group is already looking at solar panels and we’ll be looking at rainwater capture, and other tech like that. 

> Read more about the Net Zero Arran RISS group 


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