Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science Simon Harris today awarded the SFI Future Innovator Prize to a project that will help a dairy farm achieve net-zero emissions by 2027.

Winner Professor Kevin O’Connor and his Farm Zero C team at University College Dublin (UCD) have been awarded €2 million to help deliver the climate-neutral farm in Cork, with plans to extend the strategy to a further 5,000 farms within five years.

As part of the SFI Future Innovator Prize Zero Emissions Challenge, Farm Zero C, in partnership with dairy producer Carbery Group, studied how planting different types of grasses and clovers on pastures and supporting hedgerows can boost biodiversity and soil health, how using renewable energy that reduces greenhouse gas emissions and how changing what we feed livestock affects how much methane gas they produce.

Farm Zero C is using Shinagh Farm near Bandon, Co. Cork, owned by the farmers of four West Cork Co-ops, as a demonstrator for this project, with the goal that Shinagh will achieve net-zero emissions by 2027. Wider deployment will be achieved through a mobile app. This will integrate farm and satellite data, habitat mapping and natural capital accounting, to provide users with information on the carbon footprint of their activities and to develop strategies to mitigate these.

Speaking today, Minister Harris said: “Congratulations to Professor Kevin O’Connor and the Farm Zero C team. Innovative and disruptive ideas like the Farm Zero C project will become increasingly important as we deliver against the Government’s ambitious Climate Action Plan and significantly reduce our carbon emissions. My Department’s support for projects like this one, that have real world impacts, really gives me not only pride, but confidence, as we strive to reduce our carbon emissions by 50% over the next decade.” 

Minister of State with special responsibility for Agri-Food Research and Development, the Bioeconomy, Farm Safety and New Market Development Martin Heydon added: “Congratulations to the Carbery Group and the Farm Zero C team for developing this pioneering and holistic approach to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and increasing the health and resilience of a working farm.  This is the Irish bioeconomy in action safeguarding farmer’s livelihoods whilst protecting our climate and environment.”   

Director of the SFI BiOrbic Research Centre in UCD Professor Kevin O’Connor, who collected the award on behalf of his team, said: “Agriculture is a critically important sector for Ireland socially and economically and dairy farms have huge potential to help Ireland to address two existential challenges, climate change and biodiversity loss.  Farm Zero C is building a holistic plan to progressively bring farm emissions to net zero, enhance biodiversity, and integrate natural capital and digitalisation into the farm business. We have brought the very best national and international partners together to address the challenge. From the outset Carbery group and the Shinagh farm in West Cork have been incredible societal champions and we look forward to working together to roll out the findings to as many farmers as possible.”

CEO Carbery Group, Jason Hawkins added: “Sustainability is one of our core business priorities at Carbery and, as a co-op, has always been intrinsic to how we operate. We work in partnership with our community to solve problems, and our relationship with BiOrbic is a good example of business and academia working together with farmers to create a sustainable future for dairy farming. With Farm Zero C, our emphasis is on the practical – the solutions we find have to be implementable on the typical Irish family farm. With this project, our partners and the support from Science Foundation Ireland, we are confident that we can achieve this aim.”

Professor Mark Ferguson, Director General of Science Foundation Ireland and Chief Scientific Adviser to the Government of Ireland, said: “The SFI Future Innovator Prize is part of an approach to cultivate challenge-based funding in Ireland to accelerate and validate excellent and innovative solutions to critical societal and global issues. The Farm Zero C project, led by Professor Kevin O’Connor, epitomises this ethos as it provides a solution that can enable Ireland’s important dairy farming industry to become carbon neutral.”

As part of the SFI Zero Emissions Challenge, a special prize of €500,000 was awarded to Dr Tony Keene and his team at LiCoRICE, University College Dublin (UCD), in recognition of the potential impact of their project to bring lithium cobalt batteries into the circular economy to decarbonise road transport. Dr David McCloskey’s team at Trinity College Dublin (TCD) were also awarded a special prize of €500,000 for their SolarCool project, which is a cost-effective technology that improves efficiency of existing and future solar PV technologies.