We spoke to the team at the National Farmers Union, Scotland, about the work they do with the Scotch Whisky industry supply chain and how these two important sectors connect when it comes to Sustainability.
Tell us about the work your organisation does – how long it has operated, its remit, its core work?
NFU Scotland supports and promotes our members to achieve a sustainable and profitable future. The organisation was formed in 1913 and is Scotland’s leading agricultural organisation representing 9,000 farmers, crofters, growers, their families and other supporters from Shetland to Stranraer. NFUS works alongside its sister organisations in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, as well as other rural, business and consumer groups, to deliver on our purpose.
Sustainability is incredibly important, and we know there needs to be a lot of changes to get to net zero. To reach our joint environmental aspirations we must take a collaborative approach across the supply chain – from farmers to maltsters to distillers and beyond – to meet this challenge.
What connections does NFUS have with the Scotch Whisky industry?
Our members are very connected to the Scotch Whisky industry. They provide the raw material for this product. The starting point of Scotch whisky is barley. The starting point for our members is looking after the land to grow this barley.
To put this into context here are some numbers:
- Nearly 40% of our members grow crops
- The main crop grown in Scotland is barley, and 65% of the total cereal and oilseed cropping area (301,800 ha) was used to grow spring barley in 2020 (2)
- A third of this barley crop is used for malting for the whisky industry (3)
Which all adds up to making whisky an extremely important product for Scottish agriculture, and for our members!
Why is it important for the Scotch Whisky industry to work with organisations like NFUS?
Sustainability is incredibly important, and we know there needs to be a lot of changes to get to net zero. Sustainability is also incredibly difficult. True sustainability can only be achieved if the three legs of the sustainability stool: environmental, economic, and social, are firmly in place to support a sustainable future for everyone, including farm businesses.
To reach our joint environmental aspirations we must take a collaborative approach across the supply chain – from farmers to maltsters to distillers and beyond – to meet this challenge. Dialogue and understanding is key to making this work, helping everyone understand the inevitable trade-offs to be made and agree how these are compensated. We will quickly need to get over a lot of hurdles, and we do not have that many harvests before 2040 to get this right!
How is the farming industry – which like Scotch Whisky is a sector with a strong, long-standing heritage – working to innovate in order to hit Net Zero emissions? How can the Scotch whisky industry support its work?
Net zero is difficult. Practices need to change; and supporting policy and a favourable marketplace are essential to enable this change. Several prominent NFU Scotland members were part of a farmer-led Scottish Government Arable Climate Change group. This group has identified changes that can be made to reduce emissions. We are now working on making these changes a reality through lobbying for supporting policy and industry action.
We are keen to highlight some of the challenges and trade-offs of producing net zero barley to other members. The reality is that the net zero barley of the future is different to today’s barley, and it is important for the supply chain to work with farmers to look at the challenges and opportunities that net zero barley poses.
A particularly difficult part of the net zero challenge identified by the Arable Climate Change group is the need to reduce nitrogen fertiliser use. They have suggested a range of crop production practices that can do this, but they do have the potential to impact the quality of grain produced. How can we work together to mitigate this impact across the whisky production chain?
Why should caring for the land and the supply chain be important to an industry like Scotch Whisky?
Scotland has a rich cultural heritage and history, and some of the most beautiful landscapes in the world. Scottish farmers are the stewards of Scotland’s landscapes. They care for the land and make a living from it. Selling malting barley helps them make a living so that they keep on caring for their land in a sustainable way.
Scotland’s powerful image helps sell Scotch whisky. It is important that caring for the land, Scotland’s landscapes, and the people working in these landscapes builds on this powerful image to ensure a sustainable future for Scotch whisky.
It is important that caring for the land, Scotland’s landscapes, and the people working in these landscapes builds on this powerful image to ensure a sustainable future for Scotch whisky.
What outcomes are you hoping to see from COP26, and how will they support the work you do with the Scotch Whisky industry?
We want Scottish and UK governments to put policies in place to enable businesses to deliver on net zero targets. There will be difficult choices ahead and we want to see policies implemented that support farmers, enabling them to be profitable and sustainable whilst delivering on our obligation to reduce our carbon footprint and bolster our natural environment. Net zero is difficult, and we all need to work together to achieve it. We hope that COP26 will be the catalyst that makes this happen.
What is special about Scotland? What is special about Scotch Whisky?
Scotland has a rich cultural heritage and history, and some of the most beautiful landscapes in the world. Scotch whisky and Scottish farming and crofting are both iconic in their own right: Scotland makes them special, while they also help make Scotland special through a shared heritage and history.
Scottish farmers are proud to supply the special ingredient for special whisky – Scottish barley. And we know that the Scotch whisky industry are proud to buy Scottish as well.
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