€1.4m project to measure carbon-harvesting potential of Irish soil

19 Apr 2021352 Views

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New research at VistaMilk aims to point the way towards ‘climate-smart farming’ in Ireland.

A €1.4m carbon sequestration research project aims to help Irish farmers move to more climate-friendly agricultural systems.

Carbon sequestration is the process of capturing CO2 from the atmosphere and storing it in plant material. It is important for soil health as it can improve workability, water-holding capacity and productivity.

VistaMilk, the Science Foundation Ireland research centre focused on agriculture, is working on the project with Dairy Research Ireland, the group that allocates funding from the dairy levy collected from Irish dairy farmers.

It will leverage the new National Agricultural Soil Carbon Observatory, established late last year by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine.

Researchers will use the observatory’s network of carbon dioxide monitoring towers to explore the impacts of farm management practices on a variety of soil types. The four-year research project will be led by Dr Karl Richards and Prof Gary Lanigan.

Under the Climate Action Bill, the Irish agricultural sector will face binding targets for the reduction of emissions as the country looks to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. Vista Milk believes there is an opportunity to reach these targets in agriculture by putting in place measures to quantify carbon sequestration.

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“This builds on our investment to date in measuring the emissions and opportunity for removals through our soils and hedges and is a critical step in developing opportunities that encourage and reward farmers capturing carbon,” said Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Charlie McConalogue, TD.

“Moreover, if Ireland can provide rigorous measurements of carbon sequestration on a regular basis, it will underline the positive contribution that farming is making to reduce net emissions.”

Jim Beecher, chair of Dairy Research Ireland, said it will give farmers the data to understand the emissions and sequestration effects of a variety of grass production systems.

Teagasc’s director of research, Frank O’Mara, added that this will “point the way towards climate-smart farming” and help Irish farmers move to “more climate-friendly farming systems”.

VistaMilk is a joint initiative between researchers at Teagasc, the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation, the Insight research centre for data analytics, Tyndall National Institute and the new Walton Institute.

The €40m research centre is jointly funded by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, as well as Science Foundation Ireland and more than 50 industry partners from agriculture and ICT.

Prof Mark Ferguson, director general of Science Foundation Ireland, said centres like VistaMilk have a “key role to play” in the green transition and the reduction of carbon emissions.

Sarah Harford is sub-editor of Silicon Republic

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