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Clarion Congress & Hotel, Comet


Carol Kyle and Dominic Duckett.

The James Hutton Institute


Topic: Constraints to increased livestock production on small farms in Scotland

Keywords: Food and Nutrition security (FNS), Small farms, livestock production, Scotland


The Horizon 2020 project SALSA (Small, farms, small food businesses and sustainable food and nutrition) aims to enhance food and nutrition security (FNS) by promoting enabling mechanisms whereby small farms can increase their contribution to local food systems. Using a food systems perspective, the project looks beyond production capacity and investigates food security in terms of the availability of nutritious and safe food, food access and control, food utilisation, and food stability. This paper highlights two case studies exploring the opportunities and challenges around livestock production on a small scale in Scotland. Researchers interviewed 35 smallholders and crofters who farm < 10ha in two NUTS 3[i] scale regions of Scotland. UKM27 Perth & Kinross and Stirlingshire, and UKM63, Lochaber, Skye & Lochalsh, Arran & Cumbrae and Argyll & Bute.

Small farms at this scale contribute between 1% – 4% of the total beef and lamb produced in these regions and are frequently labelled a lifestyle choice rather than a lucrative commercial enterprise because they are often economically unsustainable at the household level unless supplemented by an additional income (e.g. pension or full-time employment out-with the livestock business). However, many respondents acknowledged the potential for greater production and SALSA findings point to significant opportunities for greater contribution to FNS.

Small livestock farms in Scotland typically produce products with the following characteristics; added value by specialising in heritage breeds, for example, Highland cattle and Hebridean sheep; geographical provenance which facilitates entry to the growing market for locally produced food; animal welfare and organic principals which differentiate their products from mass-produced, lower priced alternatives and environmental principles which makes them ‘greener’ than some larger producers and well placed to assist in a sustainable rural transformation. Furthermore, small scale is often said to facilitate agility when reacting to changing demands in production.

In addition to economic constraints, barriers to increasing livestock production were said to include a subsidy system thought of as “more trouble than it’s worth”; an increasing lack of easily accessible abattoirs; a shortage of available and more importantly, affordable, land for new entrants and the fickleness of the market.

Using a food – systems approach we examined relevant governance systems related to the organisation of small livestock farmers and associated food chains to provide tools to guide decision-makers in enhancing the contribution of small farms and food businesses to food and nutrition security. 

[i] Nomenclature of Units for Territorial Statistics -level 3

Go back to the workgroup WG 26