RBST Scotland Spring Conference 2023

Conference Report: Native Breeds for Future of Scottish Food and Environment

Native livestock breeds will be key over the coming decades to commercially viable agriculture systems that support both food production and environmental sustainability, speakers agreed at the RBST (Rare Breeds Survival Trust) Scotland sustainable farming conference yesterday (23 March 2023).

More than 120 farmers, smallholders and food producers gathered yesterday at Bowhouse in Fife for the ‘Farm to Fork – a new, sustainable perspective’ conference to explore sustainable solutions to the challenges Scottish agriculture is facing. The conference was hosted by RBST Scotland in partnership with Balcaskie Estate, and sponsored by Galbraith Group, SAC Consulting and Benson Accountants.

Mairi Gougeon, Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and Islands, delivered the keynote speechShe said: “The Scottish Government wholly supports genetic diversity – most notably in building resilience to climate change. Future livestock may well benefit from rare breed genetics, in our goal to achieving greater productivity, without increasing greenhouse gases. The RBST is working hard to support rare breed numbers to be preserved, maintained, and increased. While great progress has already been made, due to a range of challenges, there are still too many breeds on the watchlist. 

“As well as being highlights of our past, to look back on with pride, these breeds, alongside the land upon which they live, must also remain a clear part of our future, as we look ahead to a net-zero nation. We look forward to engaging with the RBST and industry partners as we work together to save some of the most cherished and fundamental parts of our heritage – sustaining our agricultural assets, and protecting our rare breeds.”

RBST Vice President Scotland Martin Beard said: The RBST Scotland Farm to Fork conference has clearly demonstrated that we do not have to choose between a viable agricultural industry and supporting the natural environment. Bred over centuries for Scotland’s landscapes and conditions, our hardy and low input native breeds of cattle, sheep, pigs, goats and poultry offer commercially viable food production that also supports many of our most urgent environmental challenges such as restoring soil health and biodiversity. The conference gave farmers, smallholders and food producers an important forum for valuable discussions about the path to a sustainable future and the experiences of farming with native breeds that we heard about at the conference, and the depth of debate and discussion among speakers and delegates, is really encouraging for the future. 

We welcome the Cabinet Secretary’s assurances in her keynote speech that the Scottish Government fully recognises how important the genetic diversity of our native breeds is to our shared vision for sustainable local food supply chains and is looking at inclusion of support for animal genetic resources in the Agriculture Bill. We look forward to working with Ministers to ensure the discussions of today translate into tangible and significant support for thriving native breeds.” 

Speakers and delegates discussed topics including soil health, restoring biodiversity, a way forward on carbon, improving the livestock food chain and marketing farm produce. The discussions concluded that the nature of farming is changing, with native breeds able play a major role in a more sustainable future for food production and the environment, but that developing skills and close collaboration between industry and Government will be essential.

The conference was chaired by Claire Saunders, RBST Trustee and Chair of RBST’s Conservation & Research Committee. Other speakers included Ceri Ritchie (SAC Consulting), David McKay (Soil Association), Sascha Grierson (Hugh Grierson Organic), John Armour (Scottish Government), Prof Tim Morris (RBST), Doug Christie (Durie Farm), Rosemary Champion (The Accidental Smallholder), Nikki Yoxall (Grampian Graziers), Roger Baird (Scottish Organic Producers Association) and Adam Forrest (Scotland Food & Drink), among others.

During the conference, RBST Chief Executive Christopher Price announced the return of the RBST Scotland Food & Farming Sustainability Awards for 2023, following the success of the inaugural RBST Scotland awards in 2022.

The RBST Scotland Spring Conference was sponsored by Galbraith Group.

Find out more about them here

The RBST Scotland Conference was held in association with the Balcaskie Estate in Fife. Please see more details about the Estate, Farm and ethos here

The Networking reception and areas were kindly sponsored by Benson Accountants. They are Accountants, Business and Tax Advisors helping farming businesses and landed estates nationally to achieve their goals and ambitions. Focusing on growing, protecting, and passing on their business and assets in the most tax efficient manner. Find out more about Benson Accountants here.

SAC Consulting, part of Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) was an event partner of the RBST Scotland Spring Conference. SAC Consulting is uniquely well placed to support the sustainable growth and prosperity of agriculture and land-based businesses; working across food supply chains as they rise to the challenge of climate change.

To see the conference programme, please click here