Farming with Climate Change in the Borders – Environment Minister Visits Upper Nisbet

Published Wednesday, 17th October 2012 in Farming For A Better Climate news

Robert Neill and Paul Wheelhouse

Paul Wheelhouse MSP, Minister for Environment and Climate Change, visited a Borders arable farm on Monday.

He heard how farmers are finding ways to reduce agriculture’s impact on climate change and improve their efficiency. Upper Nisbet, near Jedburgh, is a Climate Change Focus Farm involved in the Scottish Government’s “Farming for a Better Climate” initiative, run by SRUC, Scotland’s Rural College.

Now in the second year of the project volunteers Robert and Jac Neill have been hosting groups of like-minded neighbours to explore how changes in the way they do things can lower energy use on the farm, reduce costs and shrink the farm’s carbon footprint. Across Scotland there are four different farms taking part in the initiative. While Upper Nisbet is a mixed beef and arable unit it is the activity around their crops that have been focussed on.

In a tour of the farm Paul Wheelhouse heard how the Neills have already measured their farm's carbon footprint and carried out detailed audits of their energy use and the scope for wind power. One aspect the Minister showed particular interest in was the adoption of so called “precision farming” techniques. With careful analysis of soil fertility and the use of satellite mapping and tractor mounted GPS they can target fertiliser use better, reducing waste, cutting costs and avoiding pollution.

The Minister was impressed with what he saw:

“Improving farm efficiency and in turn the bottom line is at the heart of the Farming For a Better Climate initiative.  And in light of this year's poor summer Upper Nisbet farm’s participation in this initiative as a Focus Farm is particularly welcome.

“The farm demonstrates impressively that measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions can reduce farm costs.  Efficient fertiliser management not only helps the climate, but also improves water quality.  And returning manures and straw from the cattle to the land helps soil fertility and locks carbon in.  These are really good examples of win-win measures for farmers.”

As Focus Farmers the Neills have had to be willing to accept criticism and questions from the group about the way they do things. However Robert believes the process can be a useful one.

“With a poor summer and bad harvest costs are crippling farmers at the moment.  Anything we can do to improve farm efficiency and reduce costs is welcome.  It was great that the Minister could come out to Upper Nisbet and see first hand what’s happening on Borders' farms.”

As co-ordinator of the initiative Consultant Rebecca Audsley works with colleagues from SAC Consulting, a Division of SRUC, Scotland’s Rural College. She believes the lessons being learned at Upper Nisbet can apply elsewhere.

“Working with the focus farmers is a great way to show practical measures that will benefit farm efficiency and profitability and will also help to lower the farm carbon footprint into the bargain”

Other aspects of the Minister's visit include discussions on feed rations for farm livestock, assessing soil quality and compaction issues after the wet season  and a look at the wind speed measurements being taken made to assess the prospects of an on farm turbine.

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