Scottish agriculture is an important industry and crucial for our food security.

Flooded gateThe projected warmer, drier summers may mean changes such as a longer growing season and the viability of new crops in Scotland. However, on the other hand and warmer, wetter winters could see crop damage due to flooding or the introduction of new diseases.

The opportunities and risks for the agriculture sector are varied and wide-ranging and will be different depending on the type of farming carried out. The key generic opportunities and risks to the agriculture sector from climate change are outlined below.


Key Impacts

  • More frequent extreme weather events coinciding with critical points in production cycles, eg lambing, sowing, harvesting
  • Heat and soil moisture stress
  • Reduced yield quality due to faster growth including grain failing to fill properly and reduced grass digestibility
  • Milder winters may fail to kill existing pathogens and insect vectors
  • New and/or more aggressive pests and diseases in crops and animals, for example  Orange Blossom Midge of wheat and Bluetongue and Liver Fluke in cattle and sheep
  • Introduction and spread of non-native plant species
  • Reduced water availability may lead to heat stress for livestock in summer
  • Reduced field access for grazing, manure spreading and cultivation, particularly in autumn and possible flood damage
  • Reduced crop and grass yields due to drought stress
  • More need for irrigation particularly in the east of Scotland
  • Higher levels of investment required to maintain and improve field drainage systems
  • Increased soil erosion
  • More storm damage to agricultural buildings and increased insurance premiums
  • More spontaneous heathland and heather fires
  • Increased volatility of global commodity market due to exposure to climate shocks
  • Increased insurance costs
  • Increased planning required
  • Increased competition for land 

Key Opportunities

  • A longer, warmer growing season
  • Increased growth rates for arable crops and grasses due to increased CO2 concentrations and warmer temperatures. This will lead to higher yields.
  • Opportunities to grow a wider range of crops
  • Reduced levels of cold weather pests and diseases of crops and animals
  • Less frost damage in winter crops and crops in store
  • Shorter winter housing period for livestock due to longer grazing season
  • Better access to land for field operations and livestock grazing due to drier summers
  • Opportunities to take advantage of harvest failures / impact of climate change elsewhere in the world
  • Changing yields and geographical range for some crops
  • Reduced energy costs for buildings

What’s happening?

There is much happening in the area of climate change adaptation in the agriculture sector including research, information dissemination and the development of a sector action plan as part of the Scottish Climate Change Adaptation Framework.

Sector action plan

As part of Scotland’s Climate Change Adaptation Framework a Sector Action Plan for Agriculture was piublished in March 2011.The Sector Action Plan will be updated on an ongoing basis as to reflect the evolution and needs of that sector. 


The Scottish Crop Research Institute has a number of climate change research projects under way both on the impacts of climate change as well as climate change adaptation options. Interesting projects include identifying potential threats from new or existing pests and pathogens of plants emerging in Scotland as a result of climate change, the development of new functional crops and examining how increasing diversity among crops can improve resistance.

The Scottish Agricultural College also has a number of climate change research projects. The impact of climate change on the livestock sector is of particular interest. 

Research at Macaulay Land Use Research Institute falls into three broad areas – impacts, human responses and ecosystem services. Much research at Macaulay has focused on impacts of climate change on the ecology, soils, hydrology and land use of Scotland

Adapting to Climate Change Skills Programme

This is a three year skills development programme, which will prepare agricultural businesses for the impacts, opportunities and risks that climate change brings. The programme will equip farmers with the skills and knowledge to plan for and adapt to climate change, improve the sustainability of their businesses, and reduce greenhouse gases (GHGs) emitted by agricultural activities. The project supports the aims and objectives of the Scottish Rural Development Plan 2007-2013, and will contribute to its environmental, economic and social targets.

The Agriculture and Climate Change Stakeholder Group (ACCSG)

This group was established by the Scottish Government in November 2006 to consider the implications of climate change for Scottish agriculture.  The Group comprises representatives from several stakeholder bodies. In terms of adaptation, the remit of this group is to consider, in the light of available projections of the likely impact of climate change in Scotland, ways in which the agricultural industry could adapt, and to make appropriate recommendations to stimulate action.

Climate Change and Scottish agriculture: Report and recommendations of the Agriculture and climate change stakeholder group (SCCSG)

Land Use Strategy

The Scottish Land Use Strategy, a requirement of the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009, will set out the Scottish Ministers’ objectives in relation to sustainable land use and must also contribute to adaptation to climate change. The Land Use Strategy will be available by March 2011, more information is available from the Scottish Government website.

Scottish Soil Framework

The Scottish Soil Framework was published in May 2009 and describes key pressures on soils, with particular emphasis on climate change. The framework identifies relevant policies to combat threats and identifies the future focus for soil protection, key soil outcomes, and actions across a range of sectors.


Adaptation Options

  • Changing the timing of crop establishment and harvesting
  • Selecting different crop varieties and modifying pesticide programmes
  • Investing in irrigation equipment and water storage facilities
  • Improving soil drainage and increased use of soil conditioning equipment
  • Changing enterprise mix
  • Changing timing of lambing/calving/housing and turnout of livestock
  • Increased provision of shelter for grazing livestock
  • Investing in more robust, better ventilated buildings
  • Becoming less reliant on grass silage for winter fodder
  • Increasing use of risk management techniques
  • Investigate drought resistant varieties of crops or alternative livestock breeds
  • Consider planting shade belts to protect livestock
  • Join or initiate an abstractor group to facilitate liaison with regulators, or look into other collaborative approaches to share resources
  • Ensure buildings are maintained and prepared for more stormy weather
  • Consider adjusting growing practices to take account of more winter soil erosion events
  • Extreme events may lead to more yield variability increasing the need to plan, extend the range of crops and potentially increase ‘speculative’ planting (in the hope there could be a ‘good’ year for a particular crop)
  • Collect excess rainwater for use in drought periods
  • Consider the advantages of longer growing seasons for double-cropping or using a greater number of varieties
  • Consider investigating greater crop rotation and using field margins to encourage pest predators


More Information

Climate Change and Scottish agriculture: Report and recommendations of the Agriculture and climate change stakeholder group (accsg)

A Forward Strategy for Scottish Farming: Next Steps